The past year has seen unprecedented change as all have faced up to the challenge of the pandemic. It has created challenge and not a little confusion, but it has also provided time and space to evaluate what really matters in life and the importance to us of our essential services and industries, not least food supply and agriculture. In looking at issues such as protecting our environment and carbon footprinting, again the spotlight has turned on agriculture. The totality of food miles in getting supplies to consumers is immense and, in carbon emission terms alone, a huge issue. Then of course in the UK there is Brexit, with all the change it brings – and to many producers some fear and uncertainty.
However, as is always the case, out of challenge and confusion comes opportunity. To many in UK agriculture these are exciting and potentially game-changing times, provided they adapt to meet customers’ needs and changing trading arrangements – and indeed demand patterns. Agriculture occupies over 70% of land within the UK, and the new Agriculture Bill requires land to be farmed in a productive way, with less environmental impact, and to diversify and plan for succession. At a time when the government is looking to reform the planning system, it has never been so important for the new measures to support farm businesses now and in the future.
The government pledge is “to enable an innovative, productive and competitive food supply chain from farm and sea to fork that invests in its people and skills”. Sustainable farm businesses are important not only for their custodian role in shaping the landscapes that we value and rely on for our environmental wellbeing, but also to ensure such businesses continue to be major economic drivers and providers of services.