TFA Viewpoint: It has hardly been a year for ‘Auld Lang Syne’, says George Dunn

I AM not sure that there has been any other year when Government Ministers have held emergency summits and meetings on both drought and flood. If ever we needed reminding of the fragility of our food and environmental security, 2012 certainly delivered in spades.

Whilst farmers continue to battle animal and plant disease, unfair supply chains, rising costs of production and over-regulation, this year the weather has been the farmer’s greatest enemy.

In farming, with our factory floors open to the skies, there is frighteningly little that we can do at times when the heavens decide first to withhold the rain and then allow the floodgates literally to be opened.

It was only three years ago that the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, warned of the perfect storm that we faced as a global community in terms of rapidly expanding population giving rise to challenges both of food and energy security, climate change and water use.

What is clear is that we cannot use the experiences of the past as a barometer for the future. We need a paradigm shift in our thinking to deal with the new challenges ahead.

Given we can’t change the weather, despite the enthusiasm of those climate change mitigationists who believe we can, but bankrupting us in the process, we can ensure that we have regulatory and policy frameworks in place which ensure that, come hell or high water, we have the resilience within the farming industry for long-term security.

Any chance that we will shortly see negotiations on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy conclude in a way that helps build this resilience is but a vain hope. That is even before DEFRA decides how to implement whatever Europe delivers in its unique style which shows a certain degree of ambivalence to farming, particularly when it comes to the use of public money.

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So what can we look forward to in 2013 which will at least help British farmers to have the confidence they need to deliver the twin goals of food and environmental security for our nation?

A big step forward will be the coming into force of the Grocery Supply Chain Adjudicator at some point in the year. It has been more than 15 years in the making, but we are eventually at the stage of dotting Is and crossing Ts.

An important move was the Government’s decision recently to allow the adjudicator to apply fines against retailers found guilty of breaching the supply chain code of practice.

We now need to ensure that the adjudicator can carry out regulatory inspections of major retailers without notice to make sure that we have a regulator with sufficient strength to protect the long-term interests of consumers.

With the traditional end-of-year singing of Auld Lang Syne, farming communities up and down the country will be wanting to forget their acquaintance with 2012 and although they may hark back to earlier, brighter years we must all – farmers, processors, retailers, consumers and policymakers – grab hold of the challenges ahead. A happy and prosperous 2013 to you all!

: : George Dunn is chief executive of the Tenant Farmers’ Association.

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