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Facing the Covid and climate crises, plus the Brexit challenge, will be bitter for farmers

The UK faces a dizzying cocktail of two crises and a challenge hitting simultaneously. Just one of these would be a real test for any Government or nation, but the dark brew of all three will be bitter, says Labour Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard.

Speaking to a farmer friend over the weekend, I was told that the economic hurricane from coronavirus was going to hit them and their business soon.

 

They didn’t know when, but they knew it was coming. It feels like a ‘phoney recession’ at the moment, my friend remarked.

 

The world so familiar to us all from only six months ago is a world away.

 

There cannot be any return to the old ways of doing things, but for his farm business, it didn’t seem like the future was clear either.

 

Britain faces a dizzying cocktail of two crises and a challenge hitting us simultaneously.

 

The first of these crises is a familiar one: the climate emergency.

 

Loss

 

This is not just about reducing our carbon emissions and striving for net zero, but also halting habitat loss and tackling the looming ecological emergency too.

 

Farmers are the original stewards of the land and I have not met one that is not keen to play their part.

 

They need to know what their role is and that means there is an urgency for clarity around the new Environmental Land Management scheme from Government in England.

 

The second crisis is the coronavirus and the economic whirlwind that follows.

 

Rural communities are not immune to the virus, and sadly far too many have been tragically taken before their time.

 

Exposed

 

Poor transport and distance may have slowed the spread in some rural areas, but the virus has exposed many of the weaknesses and issues in our society with a new ruthlessness.

 

Not everyone has been equally affected by the virus: poorer communities, Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and those with medical conditions are especially vulnerable, but vulnerable businesses, fragile supply chains and squeezed incomes all compound that risk.

 

The virus has brought into sharp focus the weaknesses in our food system, and the fragility of the economies of the British countryside.

 

As lockdown measures begin to gradually ease, we look ahead to the looming economic hurricane, where we risk thousands of jobs and livelihoods being lost.

 

Sectors that complement rural farming, like tourism and hospitality, have been shaken and many good businesses as well as fragile ones are struggling.

 

Cliff edge

 

The furlough scheme has saved many businesses, but as the cliff edge approaches in October, many more jobs will be lost, underlining why Ministers must embrace new flexibilities in the job retention scheme to flex support for those sectors hardest hit.

 

To add to the two crises, we have the challenge of Brexit, and the uncertainty that surrounds it.

 

Britain has now left the EU and the old labels of remain and leave no longer apply.

 

But no one knows what the ‘oven-ready deal’ we were promised so often by the Prime Minister looks like, or when it will be delivered.

 

And the longer the uncertainty goes on, the harder it will be for businesses to plan and adapt for changes on January 1 2021.

 

It is harder for rural areas to bounce back, and we must not risk a lost generation of young people out of work in our rural communities.

 

Protecting

 

That is why preserving and protecting the jobs we have now must be a priority.

 

Facing just one of these crises would be a challenge for any Government and for any nation, but the dark brew of all three will be bitter.

 

That is why the voice of rural communities must now be heard with a new volume.

 

I don’t know how long the ‘phoney recession’ will play out and when the cruel economic winds will hit my mate’s farm.

 

He has a good business model, a trustworthy team, loyal customers and sound products, but that is no guarantee in these changing times.

 

Hit

 

The storm has already hit his neighbours and his friends with many out of work.

 

I asked him what he wanted to see from Government.

 

Farmers, like those who work in fishing, often give the best political advice: unspun, honest and direct.

 

“I want them to have a plan,” he replied.

 

I agree with him. I can’t see one, but I hope they have one.

 

Luke can be found tweeting at @LukePollard


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