Celebrating the agricultural show season

The latest column from CLA East Director Cath Crowther
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It is such a delight to be back at the summer agricultural shows this year after a two-year absence due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Working in agriculture can sometimes be a lonely business, so to have dates in the calendar that allow people to meet up with friends and colleagues after such a long time, and celebrate the industry, is vitally important. The eagerness for our members to reconnect with each other is clearly evident at the range of sold-out breakfasts, lunches and other social events we are hosting.

With so much uncertainty facing future funding for agriculture, the shows are the perfect platform to engage with MPs and other key stakeholders to highlight the issues of most importance to our members.

We have already spent several hours at the Suffolk Show with Jo Churchill who is the MP for Bury St Edmunds and is also a minister for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This included a round table discussion, hosted by the CLA, that gave our members an opportunity to discuss their thoughts about the future direction of agricultural policy, and what they believed needed to happen to make funding schemes work for them, and the wider industry.

The feedback from this discussion was noted by Defra Programme Director Janet Hughes, who also attended, and was eager to hear the views of farmers and land managers. The comments around the table were reinforced when our members also spent time at the show with other Suffolk MPs including Therese Coffey, Matt Hancock, Daniel Poulter and Peter Aldous.

We are aiming to have similar conversations with politicians at other shows we are attending this summer, including the Royal Norfolk Show, Lincolnshire Show and Groundswell.

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The CLA marquee at the Suffolk Show

If you visit our marquee at one of the shows it is likely you will hear us discussing the CLA Rural Powerhouse campaign. It is a key piece of work that seeks to address the fact that the rural economy is 18% less productive than the national average. By closing this productivity gap, we could add £43bn to the national GDP. The campaign seeks to unleash the potential of the rural economy, creating skilled jobs and stronger communities in the process.

We are seeking:

  1. A fully connected countryside;
  2. A planning system designed for rural communities;
  3. Profitable and sustainable farming;
  4. Investment in skills and innovation;
  5. A simpler tax regime.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Rural Powerhouse released a new report recently on how to level up the rural economy. It follows one of the most comprehensive inquiries ever to be conducted by a parliamentary body into the health of the rural economy. The APPG took evidence from over 50 industry bodies, charities, campaign groups, companies, academics, and business leaders. The report concluded that no government in recent memory has had a programme to unlock the economic and social potential of the countryside.

Findings from the report included noticing a broken planning system which has failed those who live and work in rural areas. Defra also lacks the policy levers necessary to make a significant change to the rural economy.

A lack of skills provision is causing rapid ‘brain drain’ in rural areas, and urgent action is required to address labour shortages and supermarkets’ price-setting powers. In addition to this, the government is also backing away from commitments to provide everyone with full-fibre and 4G, plus the current tax system is disincentivising business investment and diversification.

For too long, successive governments have ignored the potential of the rural economy and the prospects of the millions of people who live within it. So, whilst the summer shows are an opportunity to celebrate, they are also a time for us to lobby and influence to ensure the rural voice is heard loud and clear.