A just farming transition is needed to “head off populist divisive politics”

Farming in the United Kingdom is facing a period of immense change. Following departure from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, each UK nation is developing its own agricultural arrangements. Different payment schemes are at different stages of development in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There is however a common theme – that in the future, farmers will be expected to produce not only food, but also public goods, including climate change mitigation and adaptation and biodiversity regeneration.

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, Brussels has also been looking for ways to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact. However, these proposals were met recently by a wave of well-publicised farmer protest, which ultimately forced the Commission to back down on key environmental changes around the use of pesticides and petrochemicals.

Back in the UK, many farmers, fearful of what the future holds, have been impressed by the impact of the EU farmer protests. Some are now considering whether they too should park their tractors on the lawns of political power.

Entering the furore, a new social media campaign has offered a flag around which disgruntled farmers can convene. With a distinctive black and yellow tractor logo the No Farmers, No Food campaign claims to support farmers while simultaneously questioning government efforts to address ecological security.

James Melville, the founder of No Farmers, No Food is a PR consultant and has appeared as an anti-lockdown campaigner on right-wing broadcaster TalkTV and as a farming commentator on GB News.

Farmer and author Joe Stanley has not been impressed and says that the initiative does not represent the industry. “There is massive discontent in the farming community, but this does not seem to be a farmer-generated movement.

“Populism whips up indignation and anger,” Stanley said. “That is what ‘No Farmers, No Food’ is doing, clearly with the hope of creating a wider movement as we’ve seen in Ireland and Holland.”

Sue Pritchard, chief executive of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission is keen to turn farming frustration into a positive force for a “just” agricultural transition.

She said, “To head off a descent into populist, short-term and divisive politics, a just transition for farmers and rural communities requires specific, urgent, practical and strategic investment in the sector and the rural economy.”

Discontent is particularly vociferous in Wales, where the Labour-led Welsh Assembly has angered farmers by releasing an impact assessment suggesting that livestock numbers may fall by 10.8%. Coming shortly after an announcement that the Welsh farming budget is to be cut by 13%, this has ignited a angry debate about future of farming and countryside management in Wales.

Pritchard said, “I’m a miner’s daughter from the Rhondda. Forty years ago, I lived through the Miners’ Strike, collecting for food parcels at my university to take back to my community in the Valleys. Wales cannot afford – economically, socially or psychologically – another botched transition.

“That failed transition away from coal and steel to – what? – has left Wales scarred – poorer, sicker, economically under-productive. It costs us all – in the NHS, looking after people with ill-health rooted in poverty; in schools, with too many kids without hope and ambition.”

Pritchard said, “A just transition then would have balanced the pace of change with strategic investment in building new industries, in the sectors we need for a resilient future. No one in Welsh Government could possibly think that the politics of the ‘80s is a good model for just and sustainable change.”

Read a longer article on this subject by Sue Pritchard here



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