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Pandemic to put farming ‘front and centre’ of policy making

The last few weeks have been rather like living in a parallel universe, where everything Brexit is a dim and distant memory, says Cumbrian farmer Will Case.

Farmers are fortunate to be going about much of their work as usual, the countryside is green and the first shoots of spring are appearing. Our fields are full of skipping lambs and an end to winter is in sight. We can be forgiven at times for drifting into some blissful ignorance of the silent threat of Coronavirus.

 

Modern life has been turned upside down and the impact will have long lasting effects of the British people, on how we think and how we behave.

 

Panic buying swept the nation as people emptied shelves (apart from the vegan food) there were shortages of toilet roll, pasta and meat. People were genuinely worried about where their next meal was coming from. In normal times empty shelves can bring down governments.

 

Town centres are mostly empty, people and their routines are completely disrupted. Many people are unable to work, others have lost their jobs, financial plans are being redrawn rapidly. Some are able to work from home while others are soldiering on in vital key positions. The situation is stressful but I am fortunate to have fresh air and open space.

 

Sympathise

 

I can only imagine what it must be like to live in a high-rise apartment, travel to work on the tube or work in a crowded hospital. With all of this in mind we should show empathy to people looking for some countryside to exercise in. Not all are responsible, and some deserve criticism, but most of us could sympathise with the desire to be outside.

 

Renewed focus

 

Most extreme events create extreme reactions in the opposite direction. The issue of food and food security, alongside a renewed focus on health and well being will put farming front and centre of the thoughts of policy makers.

 

People will make greater demands of farmers, and there could be a craving for greater access to farmland for people craving the space they feel they’ve been denied. But Agriculture can be at the heart of our nation’s recovery, because we are what we eat. Our health depends on our food.

 

Self-sufficiency

 

Currently food is the biggest driver of NHS spending through obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Cheap food creates unsustainable costs elsewhere, it is simply a false economy. The Coronavirus crisis should create an opportunity to reassess our food policy. We are an island nation with only 50 per cent self-sufficiency in food. In times of crisis that level of importing looks reckless, we can do so much better.

 

There is an arrogant, belief amongst some in our political class that ‘someone else will feed us.’ The free-trading ‘leave it to the market’ right wing Brexiteers will need to curb their instincts in the aftermath of this crisis. They’ve got it fundamentally wrong.

 

It’s about time Britain started taking food and farming seriously. British farming is ready.

 

Will can be found tweeting at @will_case


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