England and Wales are moving ahead with their plans to shift away from direct support, but they must ensure they do not destroy the let sector of agriculture in their keenness to take a new path, says George Dunn, chief executive of the TFA.
For nearly four and a half years, some have been dreaming about this moment, while others will have been having nightmares.
On January 1 2021, we will be fully outside of the European Union and the transitional arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU to ease our exit.
Whether or not both sides have made good use of this time to prepare for the UK becoming an independent country will start to become very clear very soon as we put theory into practice.
The much talked about challenges and opportunities for the UK and our farming community will come quickly into stark focus.
As an organisation representing the tenanted sector of agriculture and others farming land they do not own across England and Wales, the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has been fully engaged in a raft of ministerial, official and Parliamentary meetings, events and roundtables in preparation for this moment.
That 54 months of activity has now been summarised in two very important documents issued in London and Cardiff.
The Defra Agricultural Transition Plan issued in November will begin to impact farming businesses in England almost immediately.
However, the Welsh Government’s Agriculture White Paper provides more time for further consideration of changes to be implemented after the next round of Senedd elections.
But at least we have two cogent documents through which we can truly see the whites of the eyes of the policymakers as they seek to move the emphasis away from direct support to public payments for public goods in England and sustainable land management in Wales.
In supporting this general direction of travel, the TFA has said it is vital that both Governments do not get carried away with their new-found powers and liberties to the extent that they forget the unintended consequences of the policies they wish to pursue.
It is vital for food security, biodiversity enhancement and our commitment to climate change objectives that we have a sustainable and vibrant farming industry in both England and Wales.
Without this, we will become increasingly reliant upon imports of food with little control over standards of production and the extent to which they contribute to global carbon emissions.
Equally, the TFA will argue that politicians need to take care not to destroy the let sector of agriculture in the way they implement their future policies.
With over half of tenanted farmland in England and just over a third in Wales let under Farm Business Tenancies, both Governments need to ensure tenants on those agreements are not disenfranchised, by the terms of the tenancy agreements, from taking part in the new schemes they will develop.
Equally, we will be concerned if the Government’s desire for woodland planting and rewilding sees a raft of landlords abandon traditional form tenancies in favour of taking the Queen’s shilling.
This will undermine farm business resilience, opportunities for new entrants and progressive farmers and potentially offshore our environmental, biodiversity and climate change externalities as we suck in imports to compensate for reductions in domestic food production.
To achieve in this new era, we need to deepen the partnerships between the state and the countryside, farmers and consumers and landlords and tenants.
George can be found tweeting at @georgewdunn