New CLA President Tim Breitmeyer sets out his New Year ambitions for farming and the rural economy.
I am honoured to have taken on the Presidency of the CLA at such a critical time for the industry.
We face many challenges during 2018, but there are opportunities for rural businesses as well, despite the short-term uncertainty many may currently feel.
The 2017 curtain closed with a much-needed breakthrough in Brexit talks. The year ahead will be dominated by this fundamental issue, the outcome of which will determine the UK’s future place in the world. Much rests on the outcome of complicated trade talks that will progress this year, and we await with interest the unveiling of the Agriculture Bill. This will set the framework for how we support farming and deliver land use policy outside of the EU, both during and then beyond the transitional period agreed.
Although there is uncertainty, this is a defining era for the future of British farming. I am clear that positive change can drive forward growth and productivity for the benefit of the rural economy and our rural businesses.
Centre stage though must be a profitable, resilient farming sector as the foundation of a thriving rural economy which supports vibrant local communities. Our sector faces challenges and it is clear that we will need to farm differently in the future. Concentrating on the highest quality food production and exploring new opportunities for environmental and countryside management, will be a sound foundation for success.
While Brexit stole the headlines in 2017, we also had an insight into our future economic direction with the publication of the Government’s much-anticipated Industrial Strategy. Theresa May’s plan to boost productivity throughout the UK included encouraging references to the importance of agriculture and the challenges ahead.
There is no doubt that our sector is in need of significant investment as we adapt to change. The Government commitment to this investment and policy support, has to be matched by a commitment to establishing a successor to the Common Agricultural Policy and securing a Brexit trade deal, while recognising UK agriculture’s key role as the critical raw material supplier on which the nation’s food chain depends. Only then can we raise productivity in UK farming so we no longer lag behind our competitors.
The debate around the housing crisis is largely urban focussed but the shortage of homes across the countryside is no less acute. Our villages are missing out on the homes they need to keep local people in the area, and provide foundations for growth.
Rural landowners can deliver sustainable solutions for those who want to live and work in the countryside, but who are priced out. Policies that increase the supply of all housing tenures such as affordable and for private rent, in small quantities across rural Britain, will bring much needed organic growth to rural communities to build a stronger, more sustainable countryside.
Technology is key to help make farming more efficient and productive, and we can grasp this opportunity if the Government completes the digital infrastructure roll out to rural areas. This means delivering on the legal commitment to a universal service obligation of at least 10mbps for all homes and buildings, and having the ambition to increase that benchmark for fast fixed line broadband by the end of 2018.
Addressing mobile connectivity across the countryside is equally important. The Government and mobile phone industry target was to deliver 90% geographic coverage of 2G by the end of 2017, which has not been met. But it is 4G technology that everyone really needs, and the shocking statistic that 8 out of 10 rural households are without this, must be immediately addressed. Brexit aside, an urgent government priority in 2018 must be to ensure the mobile industry delivers a service that produces genuine nationwide connectivity, for urban and rural alike.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.