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Farmers must listen to public concerns about agriculture as the UK leaves the EU

Politicians must lay the foundations for a profitable and sustainable agricultural sector, but farmers also have a role to play in responding to public concerns about the industry, says Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives.

When Barry Alston, a journalist for the Farmers Guardian, wrote a feature about my farming operation and personal profile back in 2001, I certainly did not think nearly two decades later, I would be writing this article as leader of the Welsh Conservatives with the UK on the brink of leaving the European Union.

 

Fast forward 17 years, and the future is very much on my mind.

 

My eldest daughter works for one of our largest agricultural organisations; one son is in his final year at Harper Adams; another son is at home on the family farm, and my youngest daughter due to take her GCSEs with a view to becoming a vet.

 

The Farmers Guardian has asked me to contribute to this series on Brexit, and I will use my experience as a farmer and politician to outline how I think we need to progress within agriculture as an industry.


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Nuanced

 

Understandably right now, people are looking at everything through the prism of Brexit, but the picture is always more nuanced than that.

 

You only have to look at the state of our supermarkets after the ‘Beast from the East’ took hold to see how vulnerable our food security really is.

 

As a country, we take for granted having shelves full of food, and it is the same for the beautiful countryside which provides a home for an array of wildlife British people care passionately about.

 

But we as farmers have the privilege to be the providers of the former, and custodians of the latter.

Opportunities

 

Brexit, of course, provides us with an opportunity to do things differently – and we farmers need to make our voices heard if we are going to take that chance to set up a viable and productive future for the next generation.

 

Speaking as a farmer rather than a politician for a moment, it is my view that the key decision-makers setting farming policy for the post-Brexit era need to address five main priorities to protect and enhance this workshop we call home.

 

To unlock the full potential of the changes ahead of us we need:

  1. The creation of a UK framework which secures the strength of the UK single market and allows for the dynamic agriculture of the countries and regions of the UK to flourish.
  2. To recognise the challenges of 21st century agriculture by creating openings for new entrants and development of the latest technology to increase productivity and safeguard profitability.
  3. To grow our customer base both at home and abroad, and while doing this allow a greater share of the shelf price to go back to the farm gate. Underlying these principles sit many competing strands, but without youth and profitability we will have a very limited future.
  4. As politicians set planning frameworks, tax, environment and employment laws, there is a need to be more creative in how we use these to facilitate changes to bring more income into farming businesses. The potential to diversify is limitless and many farmers have chosen to do this, however many more still need to grasp that opportunity.
  5. Ensure strong safeguards for animal and plant health. With an ever-shrinking world, we are ever closer to having the next animal or plant health crisis. I have BSE and the foot and mouth crisis etched into my memory. We can never afford to let our safeguards down.

Customer confidence

 

Underpinning all of this is customer confidence, and we must not forget as farmers ourselves we too have a role to play in shaping the future of UK agriculture.

 

It is not just the politicians who need to listen. We need to be open, work hard to address the concerns of the public and fight to keep our standards as high as we can.

 

At times, we can be too defensive – reacting angrily to reports of the small number of bad apples who do not share our high standards of animal welfare or environmental responsibility. Instead, we need to listen to those concerns and respond.

 

We know what happens to the politician who ignores the concerns of their voters. We need to apply that logic to our customers, and ensure the post-Brexit era sees the United Kingdom setting a new benchmark for public confidence and high standards.

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