The Government is pushing for a new ag policy which trumpets the benefits of rewilding, zip-lining and vintage steam-engine rallies without recognising the importance of food production. It is a recipe for disaster, says Leicestershire arable and beef farmer Joe Stanley.
It may feel longer, but it’s been three years since we voted to leave the European Union.
In that time, the Government has made its reform of British agriculture outside the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) a cornerstone of its legislative programme; a cause celebre on which acres of newsprint has been expended.
Yet three months after we were expecting to have departed, the level of comprehension in public debate around food and farming seems to have progressed hardly at all from the summer of 2016, and a recent Financial Times article - ‘Betting the farm: UK landowners prepare for Brexit’ - epitomises the nadir of journalistic understanding informing much of this debate.
It takes as its sample of the agricultural community three remarkably unrepresentative representatives: Sir Charles Burrell, 10th Baronet, of the 3,500ac Knepp estate, Lady Howard of the 8,800ac Castle Howard estate and Sir James Dyson of the 35,000ac Beeswax Dyson empire – oh, and an abandoned slate mine in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
In the subsequent 2,000 words on the future of farming, the journalist – the FT’s ‘housing and property’ correspondent – repeats many of the misleading assertions about the CAP which have been wilfully propagated by both barely thinking ‘think-tanks’ and our barely governing Government since 2016, then fails to mention the calorific sphere of ‘food production’ even once, before dredging up that most spurious and execrable of templates, the ‘New Zealand model’.
In paragraph after erroneous paragraph, readers are led to believe the self-evident answer to the self-obvious problem of domestic food production is a combination of rewilding (of course) vintage steam-engine rallies (of old men) ziplines (for the Welsh) hydro-electric dams (for the Scots) and viticulture (for the rest).
And it helps if you own a castle.
Blame for bloated land values is laid solely at the door of direct payments - who remembers the financial crisis, anyway? - while the almost total deregulation of the New Zealand farming industry is, perhaps by necessity, omitted, given that it bears as much resemblance to the looming hyper-regulated environment in Britain as I do to the town of West Thurrock.
Why does this matter?
The British public is currently – whether they realise it or not (and they do not) – being led towards extreme food insecurity by a Government concerned solely with its own short-term survival.
It is an abdication of long-term, strategic thinking of a sort which would have appalled the statesmen of previous generations, who learned the hard way there are some risks which should never be run.
That the level of public debate and understanding is still so utterly disconnected from reality at this late stage should be of great concern to us all.
Even the most ardently hemp-wearing-anti-CAP-farmer-revolutionary would perhaps be concerned to realise the public is expecting to remain nourished enough to be able to engage in some steam-engine-eco-tourism-from-a-zipline-over-a-Scottish-dam-while-drinking-English-bubbly even though domestic food production post-Brexit no longer warrants even a footnote in such an august publication.
Environmentally responsible, high-quality agriculture must be on the face of any future Agriculture Bill.
This scattergun of wild ideas is no model for British food and farming in the 21st century.
Joe can be found tweeting at @JoeWStanley