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Opinion: Guy Smith, vice-president of the NFU

You wonder if farmers are the only profession to spend time abroad looking at work-related issues and think of it as a holiday.

You wonder if farmers are the only profession to spend time abroad looking at work-related issues and think of it as a holiday.

 

Do bank managers seek out visits to banks in other parts of the world and think of it as private tourism?

 

Do bus drivers marvel at the chance of travelling on foreign buses in the way farmers would jump at the chance at a bit of time-out on a foreign combine harvester?

 

This assumption we have that visiting farms abroad is ‘time off’ probably tells us something quite deep about farmers. It shows it is in the blood.

 

So my chance to travel to Washington DC and Ottawa to compare notes with farming union counterparts in the US and Canada was not exactly viewed by me as a burden.

 

It’s an interesting time to compare notes with other parts of the world.

 

As we move towards a more globalised world where things are changing as to who we trade with, and under what terms, then it is important we understand what policy regimes help or hinder our future competitors.

 

If we are suffering prolonged election fever in the UK, in the US they are just adjusting to theirs.

 

The arrival of US president Trump has disturbed the status quo. With baited breath, farmer representative organisations are carefully watching the White House from their Washington headquarters.

 

They like his anti-regulation rhetoric, but are wary of his effect on trade relations with key markets in places like Mexico and China. But, both in Canada and the US, the political will to support and stabilise farm incomes through insurance programmes and volatility measures seemed pretty unflinching even if their multi-billion dollar cost is a considerable draw on Treasury spending.

 

On Capitol Hill in Washington the debate over a new farm bill in 2018 is just kicking off.

 

In Ottawa, the Trudeau administration is still happy to finance the five key support programmes for Canadian agriculture.

 

The question for us on the other side of the pond is, have we anything to learn from these North American farm programmes now we are leaving the CAP and would they work in the UK context?

 

Do they have the necessary structures they need to underpin them, such as transparent price reporting and yield monitoring?

 

As we move towards Brexit, where the policy canvas is as blank as it has been for a generation, we need to keep an open mind on new ideas, but at the same time we need to be careful things are thought through before they are introduced.

 

We need to broaden our minds but not beyond the realms of practicality. And that is where there may be lessons to learned from elsewhere.

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