Five per cent of the English agriculture budget should be spent on supporting farmers to maximise resilience and restructure after Brexit, says Julia Aglionby, Foundation for Common Land executive director.
I have spent much of the last two weeks speaking with peers and MPs regarding ‘creating a brighter future’ for our countryside.
We have a fantastic story to tell and parliamentarians from across the political divide are keen hear it.
They want to help us secure a future which creates thriving businesses which underpin our countryside and communities.
Businesses which thrive will be ones that not only deliver food for cash; whether at the mart, farmers’ market or supermarket; but also harness benefits not paid for at the till; public payments for public benefits.
In addition, all businesses will need to optimise non-agricultural income, whether from on or off-farm sources.
The trigger for these meetings is the Agriculture Bill. It is anticipated that in England by 2024, BPS payments will have halved, yet future ELM schemes are unlikely to be rolled out in full until 2025.
With BPS equating to 91 per cent and 94 per cent respectively of upland and lowland livestock Farm Business Income, we all need to wake up and smell the coffee. Who can cope without 46 per cent of their income before drawings?
In 2017, I was fortunate to paddle down the Grand Canyon. There, over nine days, we faced a series of challenging rapids with no latitude to duck out.
Farming is in a similar situation, except this isn’t a holiday and the journey isn’t optional.
My family and I came through our rapids trip unscathed not by trusting to chance, but through the careful planning of our excellent guides.
I do not support the view that disruption through shocks to farm businesses is a good approach. It is not in the public interest for 25 per cent of farm businesses to founder.
That would be bad for the wider economy, rural communities and the health and well-being of many individuals.
Of course, some people will take this opportunity to stop farming, and we also seek to create positive real openings for the next generation, but exiting should be planned and implemented after examining all options; not through bankruptcy.
I would strongly support the roll out of a nationwide change programme along the lines of the Prince’s Countryside Fund’s Farm Resilience Project.
Government has committed until 2022 to spend £2.1 billion each year on English agriculture.
It is common sense to commit say £100 million each year – five per cent of the budget – supporting farming businesses to assess options and restructure.
Farmers can then implement changes that will deliver a countryside which is more productive, less polluted, buzzing with wildlife and thriving communities.
This week two recurring themes arose with parliamentarians – the first is how can we motivate farmers; whether owners, tenants or commoners; to maintain and enhance both their natural and their cultural heritage.
The second is how to incorporate a rural development measure in the Agriculture Bill which is bespoke and rural-proofed.
This might draw on the best of LEADER to enable micro-land based businesses – aka family farms – to thrive.
A fair income to farmers was a principle of the 1958 Treaty of Rome. Let’s keep the best of that road map and create new effective paddles to help us through this canyon.
As well as her position at the FCL, Julia also chairs the Uplands Alliance, is a director of Susan’s Farm CIC and is a Natural England board member. This article is her personal view rather than that of the any of these organisations.
The Uplands Alliance receives funding from the Prince’s Countryside Fund.