Agriculture is always on the move and the industry should, to the best of its ability, become responsive to change whilst increasing efficiency.
As the coming years are likely to expose weaknesses within the sector. As we move away from the traditional subsidies which we derived from European policy into a more competitive post-Brexit world. Where the central demands placed on agriculture will not necessarily correlate with reduced central money. This poses a challenge for the sector, for which the CLA can assist members with, especially in the area of providing information on new funding opportunities, the move to Net Zero and diversification. For more information please explore the CLA website.
So what will the future of the sector look like, and how can we therefore plan for the future?
Certainly, most rural businesses should first look to ensure that they have a solid agricultural keystone. This is essential for business health and to compensate for the loss of subsidies but any associated diversification projects cannot become undermined by neglect of the core agricultural business.
Built onto this need for a strong core agricultural business and to what degree the face of British agriculture will change is linked to the definition of sustainability, particularly whether or not this definition includes food miles, this is a very important question when we talk about sustainability.
Food miles is something relatively easy to follow for those consumers fortunate enough to be able to consider more than just price. Food miles are easy to follow and are not open to interpretation like other measures of sustainability, such as direct/indirect inputs, local environments or the grey area of production standards. This is all before we discuss what trade criteria Britain would be able to discriminate on.
It would certainly be healthy to see more home production, especially in areas where we are heavily reliant on imports such as fresh fruit where we are only 16% self-sufficient. Whilst we are always going to be limited in this area, due to the famous British climate and limitations in the planning system which would allow farmers to counter our climatic glass ceiling. It would be pleasing to increase local production where it is economical, as this would bring local opportunities and increase biodiversity but having more managed plant species in an area.
Not only is out reliance on imported fruit, along with labour and specialist products essential to our own domestic productive capacity of fruit there is increasing questioning of synthetic fertiliser being made. Given the current price of fertiliser and the desire by many to reduce the quantum being applied, it still remains an essential tool in professional food production. But we may see a slight change in the use of synthetic fertiliser, as the industry seeks to restore organic matter to the ground and have each farm reach equilibrium in their soils. Shall we see, despite some of the livestock sectors bad reputation, more livestock and a reverse to more mixed increasingly self-sustaining farms. As twin benefits may be achieved in improving soils for the farm and locking up carbon in the soil for the wider public. But this will be subject to the farming sectors ability to economically rotate increasingly efficient livestock on arable land.
Certainly following the success of Groundswell, we are likely to see a continued reverse on the trend of an emphasis on the blanket application of high inputs. This trend has been going on for decades as the sector has become increasingly capable of precision application of chemical which has reduced the overall level of input whilst increasing productivity. The sector, in its change should be supported in the long term move away from chemical reliance which can be viewed as a fallout of the Second World War. With continental Europe understandably looking to vastly increase its food production and directly informed our domestic agricultural policy. But we were also strongly influenced from across the pond in the US. With the US looking to utilise some of their chemical manufacturers whose purpose was greatly reduced following victory in their victory in the Pacific. Leading to the US Secretary of Agriculture in 1945 calling for American farmers to increase their fertiliser use by 300%.
Who really knows what British agriculture will look like in the coming years. Much of it will be subject to Government policy but the sector certainly needs a period of stability and predictability.