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The Brexit storm gives us a chance to make farming better and more productive

Brexit has given farmers a chance to rip up the rule book and create a better, more productive agriculture industry. We must not let it go to waste, says Cambridgeshire Fens farmer Tom Clarke.

As I sit down to write this article on December 10, Theresa May is shortly to stand up in the House of Commons and delay the vote on the Brexit deal.

 

I don’t know what she’s about to say, I don’t know how, when or what sort of Brexit will result, if any.

 

This sort of uncertainty is damaging for any country, and for any business. But it is unusual for the UK, and in particular for farming, accustomed as we have become to relative stability compared to our peers.

 

One thing that is certain right now is that, whatever happens next, the current crisis – not too strong a word – heralds a period of continuing division and with no clear idea of where we will all end up.

 

What is true for politics follows for the economy, for trade, for businesses generally and for agriculture in particular.

 

Fundamental

 

In agriculture I see an industry so fundamental to the well-being, prosperity and security of our country and our people. Yet it is taken almost completely for granted.

 

So completely, that the first domestic Agriculture Bill in four decades is not about food, it just hands powers to whichever Minister or Government finds itself in office at any particular time.

 

A week may be a long time in politics, but from my experience even a year is a fleeting moment in agriculture.

 

Doing doughnuts in a supertanker is a breeze compared to reforming or transforming agriculture.

 

Many farmers haven’t realised it yet, but regardless of what happens with Brexit there are massive changes needed.

 

Achieve

 

Soon, UK farming needs to achieve three things it hasn’t done consistently over the past 40 years;

  • It needs to be profitable without direct subsidy
  • It needs to reverse environmental damage
  • It needs to connect with, educate and persuade the general public

All while producing more food, to feed more mouths, than ever before.

 

So in truth, Brexit is just one potential crisis that looms for farmers.

 

To that we could cheerily add: a food security crisis, a profitability crisis, a crisis of trust between the public and farmers and science, an irreversible breakdown of the climate, and chronic global overpopulation.

 

A handy quote to dispel this doom: ‘Don’t let the opportunity of a good crisis go to waste’. This strikes me as a very helpful outlook.

 

Incentive

 

While everything is ticking along comfortably, there is no incentive to rip things up to find a better way forward. When things start to fall apart, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

 

Now come what may with Brexit the larger challenges facing farming and food producers are stark and clear.

 

The coming storm will thresh our assumptions and our resourcefulness and a better, more productive industry must be the result.

 

While it will be painful for some, perhaps many, as much as we can we should all prepare for the world of opportunity ahead.

 

Tom is an Oxford Farming Conference 2019 Emerging Leader, sits on the NFU Sugar Board and the Farmer Advisory Group for the Small Robot Compnay and is a founding member of the Ely Nature Friendly Farming Zone.

 

He can be found tweeting at @Tom_Clarke


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