Adam Speed, communications manager at the Crop Protection Association, welcomes the Government’s ambition on agri-tech, but warns the draft EU withdrawal agreement will leave the UK behind when it comes to active substance approval.
Reading the Health and Harmony command paper, leaving aside concerns about the lack of emphasis on food production widely covered in Farmers Guardian and elsewhere, I was encouraged to see the Government acknowledging the opportunity for UK agriculture presented by the next generation of agricultural technology.
The Industrial Strategy is similarly optimistic about agri-tech, setting out its ambition to put the UK ‘at the forefront of the global move to high efficiency agriculture’. This is an ambition shared wholeheartedly by the CPA and its members.
We believe our exit from the EU provides the UK with a unique opportunity to become a global hub for crop protection R&D, and a global leader in showcasing this bright new future for agriculture.
We are keen to work with Government departments to help develop a regulatory system which encourages investment in innovation and helps UK farmers have access to the latest agri-tech innovations.
Genome editing, artificial intelligence, drones, robotics and lasers – no, it is not the stuff of science fiction, but the future of farming, agriculture 2.0 if you will, and it is coming soon(ish).
We are on the verge of a revolution in the way we farm, with innovations which will transform food production, improving yields whilst reducing environmental impact. However, many of these innovations are still some way from practical application in the field.
While we transition to this future model of agriculture, farmers will need continued access to the crop protection toolbox to ensure they can provide us with healthy, safe and affordable food.
The key players in our industry are multi-national companies, looking for opportunities to invest in R&D.
But to do so, they will look for a stable regulatory culture, one which is genuinely based on science, with a proportionate approach to risk and one that is not overly political.
If there is a perception elsewhere in the world that the UK is hostile to crop protection products, then companies are unlikely to invest in the UK.
These are longer term considerations, but there is also a very immediate challenge presented by Brexit, namely the restrictions likely to be placed on our industry by the terms of the Brexit transition period.
The terms of the draft withdrawal agreement exclude the UK from participating in any process of active substance approval or re-registration during the implementation period, whether at EU level or national.
By being precluded from participating in any process of active substance approval, the UK will be put in the position of being 21 months behind evaluations in the EU at the actual point of exit, thereby disadvantaging UK agriculture and creating a kind of ‘innovation deficit’.
This presents a huge challenge to our members and risks undermining the Government’s ambitions for innovation in agri-tech.
Over the last few months, I have had a range of conversations with MPs from across the political spectrum. These conversations have been largely positive, with MPs recognising the importance of crop protection in securing our food supply and sharing concerns regarding the lack of focus on food security in the Health and Harmony command paper.
The concept of an innovation deficit is equally concerning if we are to meet the ambitions of a Green Brexit.