Unleashing innovation is the key to a new, improved British agricultural policy
As discussions on the future of UK agriculture continue, many have given voice to their dreams – and indeed their nightmares. The vision of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is for the highest standards to be applied to UK food, with productions systems highly sensitive to environmental needs, and public money supplied only for public goods. However, all this can be achieved only if such a model is made profitable for farmers. So, what are the key issues involved here and the possible directions?
It would be difficult to find anyone opposed to the idea of producing food to the highest standards and fully protecting our environment, but it is important to consider the costs and implications. The shift from land area support payment systems will increase food production costs and, if standards are not to diminish, that must inevitably result in higher food prices unless there is direct government intervention. Also, if there are to be increased environmental constraints on farming practice, productivity could fall, again increasing food prices. This will create a dilemma for retailers wanting to buy British but battling to keep their prices down. The pressure to import cheaper food, albeit at a lower standard, will be great – especially for discount retailers. The result would be unprofitable UK farming, with a consequent impact on our countryside and the environment.