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Government ‘must deliver confidence for farmers in 2018’ - TFA chief

PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 December 2017

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association.

Archant

The turn of the year is always a good time both to evaluate the impact of past decisions and look forward to what might lie ahead in the year to come.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tanant Farmers Association George Dunn, chief executive of the Tanant Farmers Association

It’s also a good time to measure progress and as I look back to my column from a year ago,I do wonder about the extent to which we have seen any real progress in understanding what the post-Brexit era for agriculture might look like. I talked about the emerging themes of transition, productivity, investing for resilience and the development of a bespoke agricultural policy that fitted the domestic context.

A year on and we have seen very little advance in these themes – a victim perhaps of an unnecessary and unhelpful distraction of a General Election which the Prime Minister will, no doubt, look back on with regret as she sings “Auld Lang Syne” in memory of the Commons majority she once enjoyed.

But we are promised new things for the New Year. The much vaunted 25 year plan for the environment is expected to see the light of day in the early part of 2018 having survived the cull of its original sibling, the 25 year plan for farming.

It did seem rather strange that having spent years attempting to bring the farming and environmental agendas 
together, that the sponsoring department for both should have considered it appropriate to drive a wedge between the two. Better perhaps if DEFRA had nailed its colours to the mast of a 25 year plan for food, farming, the countryside and the environment to have a fully integrated approach.

Environment secretary Michael Gove, who heads the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Picture: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/PA WIRE Environment secretary Michael Gove, who heads the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Picture: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/PA WIRE

Yet, we might see something of an integrated approach in the White Paper being issued by the Government subsequent to the 25 year plan and as a precursor to an Agriculture Bill which will contain the scaffolding around which new policy will be delivered both for food farming and the countryside in England and within the devolved administrations of the United Kingdom. The one thing that the Government must deliver is confidence. Agriculture is a long-term endeavour requiring significant capital investment, patience, good soil management and the ability to balance the profitable years against the bad. A policy framework which understands this and works to play in harmony with these natural rhythms is what we need to give the industry the confidence to invest, grow and meet the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.

My daily discussions with members of the Tenant Farmers Association fall into two main camps, on the one hand those who are keen to press ahead with their business plans to take advantage of whatever new opportunities emerge and on the other those who are fearful of the future and that the changes to come will not be kind to them or their farming businesses.

The sooner we understand the framework within which we will be operating in terms of policy, regulation, standards, trade and access to labour, the sooner we will be able to take the necessary actions to prepare.

As we are forced to wait for the Government to show its hand, farm businesses would do well to use this time productively to look critically and constructively at their businesses, finding opportunities for benchmarking, thinking about succession planning, understanding customer needs, developing people within the business – and that includes the principal farmer and setting personal business objectives around which the business can respond to future government policy rather than being driven by it.

For some this may lead to finding a route to a dignified exit whilst others seek plans for growth. In context, both responses are equally valid but what we cannot afford is a lack of confidence to do anything.

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