Looking after the environment, supporting innovation, improving productivity and investing in the next generation of young farmers is crucial in the expected Common Aguricultual Policy (CAP) overhaul post 2022, say agricultural experts speaking at the Three Counties Farming Conference in association with Bruton Knowles, which took place on Thursday 16 November.
Delegate numbers to the event reached 400 – the biggest yet, all eager to debate the future of farm subsidy.
And while the UK doesn’t know what subsidy will look like, it’s likely it will have to be “earned” in Michael Gove’s vision for a ‘green Brexit’ with acreage payments becoming a thing of the past.
The road ahead looks rocky for many British farmers. “While I’m not going to stand here and demand we have the same £3.2 billion funding post 2022, we must not be disadvantaged to EU competitors. Here’s a sobering thought: when you substract the diversified farm income farmers have earned, 85% of what is left of the farm income is delivered through farm support.” said Meurig Raymond.
“Uncertainty is paralysing for UK farmers, and we need a transitional free-trade deal with Europe to see us through this period,” added Meurig.
New Zealand special agricultural trade envoy, Mike Petersen, was positive about the future. “The UK should learn lessons from New Zealand, but the two are extremely different. New Zealand was ‘broke’, and subsidies were removed overnight, but when I talk to New Zealand farmers nobody wants to go back to where we were pre-1985. The opportunity for UK farmers to thrive is significant. Countries will want to trade with the UK, but strong farm leadership is vital.”
Former environmental secretary, the Rt Hon Owen Paterson indicated the CAP reform would include a reward based system. “Ceasing production subsidies would bring many benefits to consumers and producers. It does not mean stopping financial support for farmers; it could even mean increasing support by adopting practices similar to those in Switzerland, rewarding farmers for the environmental and public goods they provide.”
Country Land & Business Association deputy president, Tim Breitmeyer, said: “You can’t justify giving people money just because they own land, they have to do good. We need investment under a new contractual relationship, with the same level of subsidy, but we need to reward farmers for investing in the countryside and employing good environmental practices.”
The Three Counties Farming Conference, in association with Bruton Knowles, was chaired by farmer and BBC Countryfile presenter, Adam Henson, who fielded questions to the panel for an hour after the speakers made their cases.
Preceding the evening conference, the Three Counties also hosted afternoon workshops by Gill Lewis, of Rural Payments Agency, who spoke on the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and rural development. NFU horticultural and potato board chairman, Ali Capper, presented on growing concerns when employing a part time agricultural workforce, and Agrii agricultural consultant David Neale outlined new opportunities in agriculture.
The afternoon workshops were followed by presentations from two Nuffield Scholars presenting their recent papers. Ben Taylor-Davies spoke about blackgrass resistance management and Chris Padfield spoke about growing and nurturing talent in the agricultural industry.
Twenty agricultural trade stands featured at the conference offering advice, support and opportunities for farm businesses, and information for students wanting to pursue a career in agriculture.
The next Three Counties Farming Conference takes place on 15 November 2018.