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Sarah Millar: 'We need to reassess what the public wants from UK agriculture'

In March 2019, for the first time in 45 years, Scotland and indeed the whole of the UK, will be outside the jurisdiction of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), writes Sarah Millar.

After being cushioned for so long with CAP and the certainty of direct payments, UK farmers will now have to navigate the British voting public, which might prove to be much more challenging.

 

The problem is that in the same 45-year period of being members of the EU, the UK public’s relationship with food and farming has become much more distant.

 

Spending on food has dropped from 25 per cent of household income in 1970 to less than 10 per cent in 2018, and we hear stories of children believing ‘milk comes from Tesco, not cows’.

 

With all this in mind, I believe we urgently need to assess from the UK public, what it is it wants from farmers and land managers.

 

The public needs to tell us if we are really wanted. It needs to tell us if the country is going to be looking for home-grown food in the future. And it needs to tell us under what criteria it wants that food produced.


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We keep hearing the term ‘public money for public goods’, but what exactly does this mean? And are we using this term without actually checking it is what the public wants?

 

In Switzerland (a non-EU member), this has been embraced and public opinion on agricultural policy is regularly assessed via public polling.

 

In 1996, Switzerland even had a major referendum on changing the Swiss constitution to reflect the ‘multi-functional nature’ of agriculture.

This gives the Swiss Government a much stronger mandate upon which to build long-term policy decisions on, and gives Swiss farmers the confidence that the public supports what they do.

 

This type of relationship between the public, Government and farmers would see benefits for all; politicians would be able to make long-term decisions without fear of voter backlash, the public would feel much more invested and involved in policy over how land is managed, and farmers would have the policy environment in which they could make business decisions with confidence that they have political and public backing.

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