Call to shape West Country’s rural future

Farming and country stakeholders are joining forces to create a rural recovery plan for the South West of England, and are calling on interested parties to take part and help shape the region’s future.

Working with partners including Local Enterprise Partnerships, the NFU, and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, the Rural Business School at Duchy College will host a week of webinars to try and reach a consensus on which to base future plans.

“By bringing together researchers, practical business owners and policy makers we hope to identify how to marry sustainable and regenerative agriculture with a productive and resilient sector,” explains Robin Jackson, director of the Rural Business School (RBS). “Food and farming are core to our region’s economy and if we get it right there will be economic, environmental and social benefits.”

Initially, RBS had planned to host a one-day conference in Cornwall, but Covid-19 means the event is now being delivered online. Webinars will be held from 2-3.30 pm each day from 27-31 July and will assess current challenges and opportunities – including climate change, natural capital and the region’s food systems. “We need to look at what we can and should focus on, and give people the confidence that positive change can happen,” says Mr Jackson.

Several organisations have already produced reports around the food and farming sector – including the NFU’s strategic framework, the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s Devon Inquiry, the Devon Grass Roots Inquiry, and Tevi; Cornwall’s environment and climate change project. “We want to try and pull all of these strands together to better form an action plan,” explains Mr Jackson.

“And we want landowners, farmers, rural communities, food producers and policy makers to join the conversation and help shape the direction of travel. If we can reach a consensus of what the future should look like, then we will arrange another webinar series to find the tools we need to get there.”

Sue Pritchard, chief executive at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, will kick off the series on 27 July with her vision of the future agri-food sector, and will then help draw together an action plan in the closing session on 31 July.

“We are living in unprecedented times, in which the central importance of secure and sustainable food and farming has been shown up in sharp relief,” she says. “As well as understanding and responding to the far-reaching global challenges and adapting for the climate and nature crises, it is now essential to understand and act on what this means for more resilient and responsive communities.

“The South West peninsula has so many opportunities to develop a truly vibrant, fair and sustainable food and farming system.”

Supporting local supply chains would help farmers get fair returns for producing healthy, nutritious food, mitigating climate change and restoring nature, explains Ms Pritchard. “Bringing together this stellar selection of experts will really help shape the conversations we need to have. The benefits will be felt far beyond the agri-food sector, and in healthier, thriving and more resilient communities.”

Paul Cottington, South West NFU environment and land use adviser, will be exploring the concept of public money for public goods, and how to balance natural capital with sustainable food production.  “If there’s one thing the coronavirus situation has shown us it’s that people really value the food farmers produce, the flowers and trees that they grow, the green space available, and the calming view of the farmed landscape,” he says.

“This has been demonstrated by more than a million people signing the NFU’s petition calling for UK food standards not to be undermined by imported food as trade deals are struck. This is a moment we can use to build a stronger, greener and more productive South West agricultural industry.”

To book onto the webinars please click here


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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.