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It worries many farmers, not to say feed manufacturers, that Environment Minister Mr Gove, in his recent consultation, says a great deal about the environment but not a lot about agriculture in general or farming in particular. Newly elected NFU President Minette Batters has set out what she

describes as seven key tests ‘to assess the success of the government’s proposals and will use these principles as it responds to its consultation’. She said, rightly, that the creation of a new domestic agricultural policy was the most significant step change for the food and farming industry in decades. Spot on, Ms Batters. And the agricultural supply trade, together with its feed manufacturing component, must be right in there as the framework of that new policy takes shape. There are those who offer the general public, as one of the benefits

of Brexit, the opportunity to purchase their food on world markets rather than from within the EU which, critically, has been produced under the aegis of the Common Agricultural Policy. These voices are reinforced by those who point out the inequities that characterise the Basic Payments system where a disproportionate amount of available funds is seen as benefitting those who, arguably, are in the least need of them. The inequities arising from the administration of the Basic

Payments System are well recognised and there is a growing consensus that they can be remedied, at least in part, by adjusting the system specifically to reflect UK conditions. As far as the future framework of British agricultural policy is concerned, there are fundamental issues to be addressed – and many, if not all of those issues, have direct implications for the future of the UK’s agricultural supply industry. It is an undisputable fact that, worldwide, there are many countries that have what economists would describe as a comparative advantage over their UK competitors where the production of certain crops and livestock are at issue. Of course, no one is calling for the UK – yet – to address the prospect of growing soybeans under UK conditions and it remains a fact that countries such as the US, Brazil and Argentine enjoy natural advantages over the UK where the production of certain crops and livestock are concerned. Some of the Brexit and, notably, the more extreme Free Trade

protagonists have urged a ‘Scrap all Tariffs’ regime, which would allow agricultural produce from the three countries hitherto mentioned, together with others, to export their grains and oilseeds, as well as their livestock products to the UK, free of import duty. Food would thus, it is claimed, become cheaper and food prices would no longer be at the mercy of those grossly over-subsidized farmers. It is a tenable argument that the regime envisaged by the most


ardent free traders following Brexit, would result in lower prices at the supermarket checkout, at least for a while. What also seems certain is that the proportion of indigenous

food produced in the UK would fall – indigenous food being those types of foods that can be commercially grown in the UK under ‘normal’ conditions – with supplies increasing from those countries enjoying greater comparative advantage in the production of such foods. Following the experiences of two world wars and despite the increasingly globalised nature of the world trading economy, there are strong arguments to be made about the desirability and extent of food self-sufficiency, which has declined in the UK over recent years as far as indigenous foods are concerned. There are also strong arguments to be made on behalf of British agriculture and these relate directly to the concept of ‘public money for public goods’ advanced in DEFRA’s recent consultation paper, ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’. In all the welcome concern over the environment and the promise

of incentivising methods of farming that create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions, it is essential that future agricultural policy in the UK recognises the role that agriculture plays in the rural economy. Agriculture generates income in rural Britain, income that, through

the working of the economic multiplier, helps to support other non- agricultural activities. Agriculture offers employment prospects to those who, otherwise, would be forced to seek employment elsewhere. Agriculture, and particularly its attendant industries, including the agricultural supply trade, offers the prospect and, indeed, the requirement of ongoing investment in the rural economy. Otherwise, the outlook is dire. In the absence of any support for British farmers and their suppliers, much of the rural economy and the environment that farmers help to shape, would fall into a rural desuetude, with declining population, incomes and environmental conditions. That, at the end of the day, must say something to the policy makers. It will be evident that the agricultural supply trade and, in particular,

the sector represented by the livestock feed industry, has a strong degree of self-interest in the future of British agriculture as characterised in the years following the post-war settlement and under the conditions of the Common Agricultural policy. That may be so. However, the economic and environmental future

of the British countryside is directly involved in the debate which is now, if tardily, getting under way. We need, urgently, to ‘get it right’.

Comment section is sponsored by Compound Feed Engineering Ltd

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