For those of us in the farming industry, we may have preferred Mr Gove to take a more actively aggressive stance on food security and maybe not one that appears to be leaning strongly towards subsidies for enhanced environmental management. However, this is how he is leaning and there is no point kidding ourselves in thinking that the wider population do not share his views. It could be argued that food production as a national policy has been maintained in the UK by the French farming lobby. They have probably done a significant amount to guarantee the subsidies that UK farmers have achieved via Europe since we joined the Common Agricultural Policy. However, all of this is about to change.
Nearly two years ago we voted to leave the European Union and for many farmers, little has yet changed. We are currently in the fortunate position of having favourable exchange rates as well as a continuation of the subsidies which UK agriculture has historically relied upon. However, regardless of how we as individuals voted, the world is about to turn upside-down for UK agriculture and what is about to happen could be as fundamental as the repeal of the corn laws. We all need to look at our businesses, look at our budgets and strip out the Basic Payment that we currently receive. Anything we do get after we leave Europe will be a bonus, but we must assume there will be no government support for agriculture going forwards.
The removal of subsidies is only half of the picture. We must also be mindful of the current protection that the Common Agricultural Policy affords us as an industry. If we step out fully into the big wide world of open trade, there will be large knock-on implications for some sectors of UK agriculture. As an industry, we must remind the public that UK farming provides some of the highest standards of welfare and quality in the world and that it is worth protecting before our shelves are filled with chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.
Many rural professionals feel that UK agriculture’s main problem is not having succession talks within farming families. I reassure you now that it will be the tip of the iceberg when subsidies are removed. If you don’t do budgets; do budgets. If you are not sure where your business is going; get a plan. There is a rough ride ahead, which we can all survive, but we must be prepared.