Farmers Want Clarity About Funding Schemes Moving Forward
Borderway Agri Expo Seminars saw packed rings with engaged debates about key issues facing UK’s farming industry today and in the future.
As part of Harrison & Hetherington’s Borderway Agri Expo, held on the 28th of October, we hosted two seminars to discuss some of the most important topics in farming today regarding the future of farming, and the issues being faced by our next generation of farmers.
It was clear from the packed audience that farmers wanted to know from the industry experts what the future holds for the agricultural sector. The message was clear; more clarity and clearer information is needed for farmers going forward. They need to know the support that is available at this critical time in which the UK agricultural sector is playing a vital role.
The first seminar, Future of Farming in Northern England, was chaired by me,Tim Sedgewick, with speakers: John Powell (Head of Agricultural Team, DEFRA), Dr Julia Aglionby (Professor in Practice at the Centre of National Parks and Protected Areas & Consultant to H&H Land & Estates), Dr Neil Hudson (MP for Penrith & the Borders), and David Hall (Regional Director, NFU).
Dr Neil Hudson said, “The real issue that was coming out loud and clear was that farmers are wanting clarity about the funding schemes moving forward, there’s a lot of uncertainty as the payments are transitioning. I think there is uncertainty and there is fear, and that is something that I have been banging the drum for in Westminster for months and months and months now, that we want clarity, and we want to make sure that UK farming is supported moving forward.”
Concerns about funding schemes and payments was a major issue brought up in the seminar. This led to questions about how much influence the EFRA committee have on policy making and concerns over food security and land management. Post- Brexit it is still unclear where farmers stand regarding exports of quality livestock which is something else that is a concern for those in the sector.
DEFRA representative, John Powell maintained that: “producing food in a sustainable way was a priority, and always had been.” He said “We are in a transitionary period and ministers have agreed to review the current land management schemes. This is a period of evolution, and we will be learning lessons during this time.”
Dr Julia Aglionby commented, “What is clear, is that currently the Government has not planned forwards, so they are effectively pushing farmers over a cliff and there is no safety net. This means that farmers cannot plan forward to adapt their businesses to the new policies because they don’t know what the new schemes are going to be, all they know is that BPS is being phased out, and by next year they will have lost 35% of their BPS as a minimum.”
Continuing afterwards she said: “What was also raised was the concern about the changes of land use, so there were a lot of farmers, who came out quite strongly, about the unintended consequence of new government policy. A lot of landlords are taking land back in hand to plant it because it is more profitable than producing food. For instance, south of Penrith there are already seven farms which are no longer being farmed or in the next few years will be planted with trees because it’s in the landlord’s interest to do that rather than keep farmers farming.”
The second event was a live debate giving a voice to the younger generation, A Live Debate: Issues Faced by the Younger Generation in Agriculture. In the debate they discussed what they believe are the key issues they are likely to be faced within the future. Chaired by Sue Howorth & Dave Clarkson, Co-Directors of the Family Business Community, those taking part were members of H&H’s Farmstock Futures Programme: Georgia Hunter, a Dairy Goat Farmer, Emma Blamire, Solicitor in the Agricultural Team at Cartmell Shepherd, Ross Murray, Agri-King Area Manager, and Helen Dent, Director at Carbon Metrics.
One of the key issues raised in this debate was the need for more education, for both those within the industry and the general public. Their voices were loud and clear: We have a lot of people to feed, and we just need to get that message across about the vital role our industry plays in the feeding the nation.
Georgia Hunter was keen to highlight that to secure a successful future “you need to step back and look at what is currently happening on the farm as opposed to just farming the land. Little steps can make life much easier.”
In discussing careers, it was agreed that the industry is not just about milking cows and driving tractors, and that there are broad range of opportunities within the sector. Today much of farming is now data driven so the vast range of career opportunities needs to be highlighted and promoted to encourage better applicants.
Farming is a 24/7 industry, it never stops, and what the younger generation made clear in this discussion was that they felt it could be an introverted, and somewhat isolating industry, and that they felt it was important to open up the community and never stop learning about what is going on and how to evolve your own farming practices for the future.
In debating farming and the environment, Helen Dent commented that: “Farmers are the ‘greens’, we produce food environmentally, and this needs to be understood by both the farmers themselves and the general public. Globally the UK is leading the way, so we must educate our customers and the wider general public about this. The UK can be a leading light for farming.”
Dr Neil Hudson, said after attending this second seminar: “This was a really humbling panel to sit through and enjoy, and I was able to ask the question about how we support people within the sector with their mental health and some really encouraging answers from the next generation. Really that was a very positive take home message for me, that people within the sector are really trying to boost resilience, and that is something that I am passionate about. I will be taking that message to Westminster to the EFRA enquiry on mental health that we are writing as we speak, so it was really humbling to be part of that today.”
In conclusion I felt that there was a lot of debate, questions and discussion, but not a huge amount of answers. It was brilliant to see so many people there, but what we need is for the actual decision makers to come forward, attend and take part in these debates.