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Far from Westminster, farmers are busy working on issues which transcend Brexit

Farmers outside the Westminster bubble are staying sane by focusing on finding solutions to problems which transcend Brexit, such as climate change and supply chain fairness, says Sue Pritchard, director of the RSA FFC.

When we launched the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission in November 2017, intending then to report in March 2019, several people said to us, “Don’t know why you are bothering – it will be all over by then!” *pause for the hollow laughs*

 

At the time of writing – 05.45, 28.03.19 – a phrase every journalist now uses to preface their piece, we still do not know when the UK is exiting the EU, but we do know now it is NOT at 11pm on March 29.

 

We do not yet know the terms, or which Prime Minister will lead the negotiations, or even what Government could be in power, to navigate this complex and unknown territory.

 

And there is still a chance we might not leave the EU at all. Parliament cannot agree a way forward.

 

Slow Brexit

 

Arguably, the most likely scenario now [checks Twitter timeline] is a slow Brexit, which would continue to occupy Parliament’s time and the political arguments for years to come. And there is still a material risk of a ‘no deal’ outcome in April.

 

As a Welsh farmer, as well as Commission Director, I share the pain of those who are trying to run their businesses in this context.

 

What is so desperately frustrating is there are things on we should be directing our attention to which are bigger than Brexit, a fact that appears to be escaping the notice of our representatives in Westminster.

 

At the Commission, our antidote to these mind-numbing uncertainties is to focus relentlessly on the issues which transcend Brexit – climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, soil fertility, people’s health and wellbeing, the future of rural communities and their economies.

 

Reporting

 

Now reporting in July, we’re working on questions such as:

  • How can farming play its part in mitigating and adapting to climate change and reversing biodiversity loss? What is the plan to get from where we are now, to a more sustainable farming system by 2030? And what support do farmers need to make changes?
  • How can we make best use of and protect our land across the UK, for all the competing requirements? This is a particularly English issue, since the devolved nations have already made progress. Is it time for a framework for land use?
  • How can farming and the food system play their part in improving the public’s health – contributing to healthier diets and a more accessible countryside? What food should farmers produce, where and how?
  • And we want to understand better how the money flows through the value chains between producers and consumers. Are risk and reward fairly shared?

That rural communities feel disconnected from Westminster and farming feels beleaguered in current debates will come as no surprise to readers of these pages.

 

So, working with farmers’ groups around the country on these, and other issues they care about, has been surprisingly uplifting.

 

For example, in Lincolnshire, we are learning from farmers’ groups working on improving soil fertility.

 

In Cumbria, we are working with farmers and other groups, to identify and map the resource flows through their communities – since it mostly feels opaque and unwieldy, and they want more say.

 

New entrants

 

In Devon, groups have focused on farmers’ mental health, short local food chains and on recruiting young and new entrants into food and farming.

 

In Wales, farmers’ groups are contributing to discussions on improving public procurement so they can benefit.

 

Far from Westminster, we have found people who are working hard to focus on the important issues, trialling new ways of working, and collaborating with colleagues for a better future.

 

We could all learn from that…

 

Sue can be found tweeting at @suepritch


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