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Defra needs to pay attention to farmers, not armchair experts

NFU deputy president Guy Smith warns of the dangers in ignoring the voice of farming experts as post-Brexit policy is made. 

One of the more interesting sentences in the recently released Defra command paper on agriculture reads ‘we want everyone who cares about the food we eat and the environment around us to contribute’.

 

In one analysis this is healthy. Farmers should welcome the fact Defra are encouraging as many as possible to take an interest in where their food comes from and how it is grown.
However, it also rings a few alarm bells. For starters, if this consultation engenders hundreds of thousands of responses isn’t the exercise simply going to drown in the avalanche it has encouraged?

Dangers

 

Then there are inherent dangers in designing policies by reference to populism. When it comes to our NHS, I would rather have it run primarily by medical experts than by the patients.

 

Finally, you wonder if Defra is going to give any priority to those who have most skin in the game - the farmers. After all it is us farmers who carry the business risk.

 

There is a rather wry school of thought that there are many more ‘commentators’ on agriculture than there are actual practising farmers. The challenge for practising farmers is that many of the views expressed by these armchair experts are negative rather than positive.

 

Wrong

 

Hardly a week goes by when some organisation without a commercial farmer in its midst has not released some sort of study as to where agriculture is going wrong and how it needs to change.

 

By way of example just this week we have had the World Wildlife Foundation launching a study on the carbon foot-print of Welsh lamb stew, the Pesticide Action Network talking up the dangers of pesticides and the Fabian Society releasing a policy document about the dangers of large farms.

 

No doubt next week we can expect something equally opinionated from the RSPB and the RSPCA. Maybe even the RAC will have a view or two on farming to share as well.

Energised

 

Since July 2016 there has been a significant increase in volume in this regard. There are no prizes as to why this might be. Brexit has energised the lobbying firmament.

 

Agriculture has become the favourite political football to kick round the Brexit pitch. There is a change in direction planned and rather a lot of potential drivers are grabbing for the steering wheel.

 

Where this leaves the voice of farmers is a big concern. The NFU is rallying the troops. Every one of us would do well to speak up as loud as possible and as often as possible.

 

The other thing we need to be mindful of is as many of us as possible need to share the same hymn sheet. As the great strategist Napoleon once observed, if in the discord of a crowd of one hundred, ten individuals decide to speak in unison then they will be heard well above the rest.

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