Comment: Resilience of last ten years bodes well for the future

Farming has remained resilient and risen from the canvas on many occasions.
Farming has remained resilient and risen from the canvas on many occasions.
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JUST WHERE has the time gone? Country Week, The Yorkshire Post’s weekly rural affairs pull-out is marking a special occasion this weekend.

To celebrate its ten years in print, we have an extended edition for you this weekend in which we are delving into nostalgia territory as well as casting an eye to the horizon as we bring you various perspectives on how farming has changed over the last ten years and what the future may hold.

Given the upheaval in agricultural industries since 2005, I doubt too many of our farming readers will be reaching for those rose-tinted spectacles. But no matter what the traumas of the last ten years, farming has, undoubtedly, shown phenomenal resilience – a good old-fashioned Yorkshire quality, I’d like to think.

Despite a general climate of economic recession, farming has emerged as a good news story. Whatever the current difficulties – milk prices and all – between 2007 and 2012 UK agriculture’s contribution to the economy increased by 54 per cent, and, agriculture contributed an additional £8.6bn more to the UK economy between 2008 and 2012 than it did in the 2003-2007 five-year period.

Those are impressive figures and are the foundations from which the country must continue to build upon as new world markets develop for our produce abroad – global population growth and new export deals promise that opportunity.

As we take a look back at farming over the last ten years, we have to be mindful of the context in which it has remained resilient.

Its recession-beating performance came off the back of a significant fight back from a position of being floored, much like a beaten and prone boxer on the canvas. The Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 tore at the heart; and both the heart and purse strings, of the farming industry.

Broken, many farming operations ceased, local livestock markets shut or reopened briefly before conceding their sad defeat.

But out of the ashes of that terrible time, other farmers restocked, intent on building a future for a life that they cared passionately about. This, too, at a time when UK beef exports were still banned, a grim hangover of the BSE crisis.

Remarkably, farming has risen from the canvas time and again when confronted with food scares. The much more recent ‘horsemeat scandal’ a case in point. ‘Food provenance’ has become a buzz phrase, as much as ‘global volatility’ – farming’s most high-profile current enemy, as those suffering from the latest downturn in the milk price will tell you.

Farm diversification, though no 21st century invention, has increasingly offered farmers a successful means of extending their businesses to offer greater financial security.

Not all diversifications work, granted, but the ‘New Age’ (to sound terribly out-dated already) of social media has given food producers a new voice and a new confidence to express themselves and their ‘brands’ – and customers, in many cases, are lapping it up.

The popularity of outlets like Fodder, the deli and cafe opened by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society at its Harrogate showground, is a case in point, where its largely locally-produced selection of food and drink products have gone down a storm with ‘townies’ living up the road.

Young people clearly believe in agriculture’s future. Just look at the increasing student rolls at the likes of Bishop Burton and Askham Bryan colleges which specialise in land-based studies.

The next 10 years will undoubtedly bring yet more challenges and hurdles – greater price volatility, stiffer examinations of pesticide use and changing EU rules on subsidies, to name just some – but farming remains a vital part of our proud county’s DNA.