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The next 30 years will make or break humanity: Farming is a bigger deal than Brexit

Over the next 30 years, farmers will have to produce more food for more people with fewer resources. This is a huge challenge, and much more important than Brexit, says Cambridgeshire Fens farmer Tom Clarke.

Just get on with it.


Everybody wants to get on with it. It’s just everybody disagrees what ‘IT’ is.


It is a General Election. It is a second referendum. It is a no-deal Brexit. It is a renegotiated deal.


Whatever your ‘IT’ is, it’s the answer.


‘IT’ is the silver bullet that unlocks the chaos and strife we find ourselves engulfed in.


‘IT’ is so obvious we just can’t understand why other people can’t see it.


We have lost the ability to agree to disagree. Compromise is akin to betrayal as we crash around in diamond echo chambers, unable to accommodate different values or perspectives.


Impatience and intolerance rule the day. This is no way to run a country, but we’re doing it anyway.




From my point of view, the referendum is the problem and the answer.


I was speaking to a Scottish farming friend last week, about Brexit, and the parallels with the 2014 Scottish independence referendum struck me.


The nationalists argue to take back control from a Union that doesn’t put them first. All benefits are banked and taken for granted.


Grievances fostered over decades and generations coalesce around a bold break for freedom. Technicalities like cross-border trade are glossed over. Sovereignty salves all wounds.


Except, when Scots got to vote on their future, the Scottish Government produced a full White Paper on independence which ran to more than 600 pages.


So people voting for independence knew exactly and precisely what they were voting for.


Contrast that with the bald, bare ‘leave’ of the Brexit Referendum.


Jazz solos


Every Brexiteer had their own private version – many have also changed their tune since. The leave vote was more a chorus of improvised jazz solos than a clear and coordinated policy overture.


The electoral bloody nose dished out to David Cameron in June 2016 has flooded our country with bile and deadlock.


An advisory referendum, with no accompanying instruction manual, has been treated like a commandment carved in a tablet of stone.


Confusion and contradiction rule the day. That’s no way to secure a mandate, but we did it anyway.


So now what?


At the time of writing, it looks likely we will both delay Brexit to the end of next January, and have a General Election.




My big fear is that an election will just return another hung or deadlocked Parliament. If so, a Brexit delay also achieves nothing because a deal will still not get through such a House of Commons.


What then?


Things have already turned nasty and could get nastier yet. I really hope we don’t lose Scotland. I really hope there is no border poll in Ireland.


This country has seen this all before, over the Irish Free State, over the Corn laws, over the Civil War, the Reformation.


Long before Monty Python, Boudicca clambered into her chariot and yelled – “What have the Romans ever done for us?”


Though she had swords on the side of her transport, not ‘£350million for the NHS’.




We seem to excel at bouts of progress followed by periods of self-inflicted retreat and division.


This at a time when agriculture is the most important job in the world. We are on the brink of the Fourth Agricultural Revolution.


The UK is ideally placed to meet the challenge of producing more food for more people with less resources, while repairing the climate and the environment.


The next 30 years will make or break humanity; farming is a much bigger deal than Brexit.


Tragically, in the maelstrom, the Agriculture Bill is collateral damage.


It has stalled in Parliament and will fall. With it goes ‘Health and Harmony’, Public Money for Public Goods, The Agricultural Transition – like watching a carefully-tended crop get washed away.


Ripped up


Years of consultation, careful lobbying, educating ministers about farming, engagement between town and country, academia and experience, food and environment. All gone. Ripped up. Start again.


The seeds we drill over the coming weeks will be harvested – no doubt. But under what rules, what climatic conditions, what Government, what markets, what margins – we don’t know and can’t say.


Volatility and uncertainty rule the day. This is no way to run the countryside, but we’re farming it anyway.


Tom can be found tweeting at @Tom_Clarke

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