The political uncertainty around Brexit is forcing farmers to reassess their businesses, which is no bad thing, says Matt Legge, a sheep, beef and pig farmer from the Isle of Wight.
Brexit poses one of the biggest opportunities our industry has faced in years. The questions are; how do we take advantage of this and how do we convince those in powe we need policy which supports a productive and profitable industry?
UK farming is, and should be proud to be, a producer of affordable food at the highest of production standards.
This can only be a good thing, but we must keep in mind the devastating effect that the strangling policy decisions of the Swedish government had on their food production.
They embraced a policy of ever higher standards, only to then allow cheaper imports to undermine their whole industry, reducing the country’s self-sufficiency figures from over 90 per cent to not far over 50 per cent.
Food produced to standards that would not be allowed here, should not then be sold here, no matter how cheap it is.
It is no bad thing that the end of direct payments looks likely, but we must ensure the overall fund is ring fenced to support food production and the environment.
Those who are keen to take the industry forward should be rewarded and the prospect of new technologies and infrastructure needs to be embraced.
This should be simple maths for policy makers: higher standards and regulation means bigger investments and higher production costs for farmers. To get cheap food and a profitable industry, financial support is needed to fill the void.
This could be to support investment or directly subsidise the production of food. Without this, there is no profit and reduced food security will follow.
For my business, the prospect of change means I analyse what I do more than ever, and this is no bad thing.
It can be all too easy to always do things the way we always have, so the renewed focus and a challenge on how and why we run our businesses are good.
On farm we will be ever harder on selection of stock, more focused on making the best use of our land, technology, chemicals and other inputs but, most importantly, we need to keep a close eye on policy and trade and we must be flexible and able to react.
Our ability to invest in our business and environment will hinge on the policy formed in the next few months, and this will set the direction for years to come.
My kids are only eight, five and one, but the policies our Ministers put in place now will affect the industry throughout their lives.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove has a talent for soundbites, but empty announcements that he ‘will shortly be making an announcement’, are wearing thin.
He is clearly an ambitious character, but the ball is in his court and his political future will surely depend on him actually delivering something which keeps efficient and productive farmers in business, allowing them the margins to deliver on both food and the environment.
With regard to the opportunities which come from Brexit, there will be many. There is no real clarity on where policy decisions will take us, but that in itself is already showing opportunities.
With many taking the opportunity to evaluate their business, some are choosing to retire and some are re-structuring or consolidating, while others may be expanding or choosing to specialise.
If we keep talking to our fellow farmers, land agents, contractors, bank managers and unions, we will be best placed to act on the opportunities as they emerge.