NFU publishes clearer vision for Brexit policy

Picture by Tony Johnson.
Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Specific measures that farmers want the Government to adopt as part of its new domestic agricultural policy have been outlined in a new document this week, as a high-profile commission prepares to help inform policy makers in Whitehall.

Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Barclays UK and Debenhams, has been confirmed as chairman of the new RSA Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside.

Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of the new RSA Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside.

Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of the new RSA Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside.

Funded by the Esmée Fairburn Foundation, the two-year commission begins work at the start of November and will be tasked with helping to make the case for a fairer food and farming system that ensures a sustainable future for the UK’s countryside post-Brexit.

Sir Ian, who sits on the World Wildlife Fund’s Council of Ambassadors and is a trustee of the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, said: “I’m delighted to be chairing this landmark Commission which couldn’t be timelier.

“We will recommend how the UK should shape its food, farming and countryside policy and practice after Brexit, as a country which imports 40 per cent of its food and where, until now, EU policy has defined the farming sector and our natural rural landscapes.

“Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy will mean we need a whole new approach to how government ensures rural land – about 70 per cent of which is farmed – delivers the greatest long-term benefit to UK society. Our food system is at the centre of this debate, and there are significant implications for the UK’s nations, regions and communities.

NFU president Meurig Raymond.

NFU president Meurig Raymond.

“All this is against a backdrop of climate change, emerging aspirations on future trade policy, and our ever-evolving relationship to what we eat.”

He added: “I’m looking forward to engaging with citizens, producers, consumers and businesses, and those representing the immense diversity of groups with a particular interest. Every one of us has a stake in navigating this vital aspect of Brexit, and to start to better understand how our choices shape the food, on our plates. A sustainable future for our countryside and our farming sector is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Confirmation of Sir Ian’s appointment came as the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) released a new ‘Vision’ paper which calls for a suite of measures to be written into new government policy to ensure farming is profitable, productive and competitive in the future.

In the paper, NFU president Meurig Raymond writes: “Given the right framework, I have no doubt that British farming can flourish outside the European Union, but this is heavily dependent on the decisions taken by our government.

“Numerous impact assessments have shown the potential effect of different outcomes arising from Brexit, many of them negative for farming. Uncertainty is already weighing heavily on farmers’ minds, lowering confidence and influencing investment decisions today.

“It is vital that government sets out its intention for future agricultural policy at an early stage - including details of transitional arrangements in the immediate years following Brexit - to ensure continuity and certainty for farm businesses when we leave the EU.”

The NFU uses its new document to explain how it wants the development of future agricultural policy to be informed by agricultural productivity measures, volatility mitigation measures and risk management tools, and environmental measures and incentives.

Volatility measures which operate in other parts of the world are mooted in the NFU’s document - such as deferred tax savings and revenue insurance schemes - but it calls on the Government to improve the provision and reporting of market data in order to inform what sort of interventions would work best in the UK.

Ultimately, the NFU envisages the industry moving towards a new domestic policy over a period of years and wants current levels of public investment to be maintained across its three policy cornerstones.

The Government plans to publish an Agriculture Bill in Parliament next year.

To inform farmers about current thinking over the development of a domestic agricultural policy, the NFU and levy body, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, are embarking on a series of Brexit roadshows across the country to meet farmers and discuss the political and economic outlook for the industry.

Eighteen meetings will take place over the next few weeks including three aimed at farmers in Yorkshire: at Darrington Golf Club near Pontefract and Malton Rugby Club on Tuesday, and at Scotch Corner’s Holiday Inn on Wednesday.

NFU members are asked to contact the North East regional office to book places at any of these events.