Agriculture, Policy & Development

It might be thought unashamed advertising that I choose this title since it belongs to the School of Agriculture, Policy & Development at The University of Reading – my alma mater where I am now a Visiting Professor. However, the linkage of these three words is especially crucial at this time as we review and chart our way forward as an independent country post-Brexit. Agriculture comprehensively defined must remain foundational to our rural and national economy through environmentally astute land management. Ways must be devised of financially rewarding and recognising farmland and forestry’s overall contributions to ecosystem security, not simply related to traditional farm production alone. Policy must take account of all factors relevant to the long-term public good and provide due reward for those who deliver it within agriculture. Development must be duly scrutinised in terms of unfettered encouragement of proper enterprise but with due regard to precautionary principles in terms of the long-term interests of the nation and of our grandchildren.

Within our Fellowship of Royal Agricultural Societies, we have members whose experience and contributions already encompass all three aspects of progress – in agriculture, policy and development. Practitioners, researchers, policy-makers and influencers of policy-making can all make a contribution to the formulation of agricultural and land-based policies during the forthcoming transitional phase of two years or so as the UK develops new arrangements. These arrangements must include maintenance of the highest standards in our own agricultural produce while filtering out from our imports anything produced in sub-standard ways in terms of animal welfare or cropping practices. Between us, we have a responsibility to raise the voice of rural realities and to promote factors influencing viable rural livelihoods in a predominantly urbanised society. We need to allay the fears of those who have assumed that Britain without EU countries having a higher proportion of farmers in their populations will ignore or marginalise farming support. Some years ago now, the Women’s Institute published posters announcing ‘Farming is Everyone’s Business’. That case has to be made strongly now in an independent UK. Communicating it effectively, as does Hamish Dykes ARAgS in Scotland through TV and other means, is vital for all and there are many innovative ways this happens via members, including Tractor Ted by David Horler ARAgS in England, and at Pennywell Farm in Devon run by Chris Murray FRAgS with its farm-based activities business. Engaging with our local authorities in their food-sourcing is part of this process, as done by Kate Morgan FRAgS in Wales, and by championing local food as does Michèle Shirlow ARAgS in this Northern Ireland’s inaugural Year of NI Food & Drink. Parallel work is being led by Ray Jones FRAgS in Scotland. We need to go further with the past decade’s efforts to ‘build the middle’ in the food chain by adding value to farm produce and providing more local foods. Innovative marketing of vegetables led to the recent award of Tracy Hamilton ARAgS in Northern Ireland with her highly successful Mash Direct since 2004 with its turnover of £15 million through both local and global sales. Our members who own land and farm have done much to enhance the countryside in outstanding ways, including the late Tecwyn Evans FRAgS in North Wales. I was privileged this past summer to again visit the estates within the North Wessex Downs AONB in England managed by Chris Musgrave FRAgS where he was instrumental in catalysing the only private initiative towards nature conservation across whole landscapes by collaboration among neighbouring farms in response to the challenge fund put out by Richard Benyon MP, ARAgS while he was Minister.

John Wibberley
Professor of Comparative Agriculture & Rural Extension

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