• Future of Farming

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    28 October 2016

    Last week I was out and about our vast constituency with a particular focus on farming. In Zeal Monachorum and up on Dartmoor at Gidleigh Common I listened to and took questions from local farmers. Many have real concerns about their future as a result of the Brexit vote. On the plus side the Government has done exactly the right thing by guaranteeing that direct farm payments – which make up around half of farm incomes – will continue until 2020 and that those agri-environmental schemes entered into prior to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement (on November 23) will be delivered on in full, even if their duration goes beyond the point at which we are out of the EU. In addition the collapse of the pound since June 23 – it has fallen by around 20 per cent – makes our agricultural exports more competitive and the price of agricultural imports more expensive – this is already assisting farmers. But in the medium term there are big questions over the kind of trade deal we can achieve with the EU – a market into which we sell more than half our agricultural exports, with Ireland and France our largest customers. If, as appears likely, we pursue complete border control then full access to the single market will probably be lost. We will rightly seek to achieve beneficial trading arrangements for our key sectors but inevitably it will be our service sector, the City and automotive that are likely to be top of the list. How good will farming’s deal be in the face of the hugely influential agricultural lobbies across the Channel? Might we face tariffs and customs barriers for our European farm exports? Might we be tempted by a cheap food policy that avoids tariffs on food imports and has the benefit of lowering the cost of living and keeping a check on resurgent inflation? As the sun dipped over Dartmoor I wanted to offer some kind of certainty – but there are too many unknowns beyond the horizon now. The government certainly understands the vital importance of a sustainable (which means profitable) farming sector and its critical role in supporting food security, boosting the economy as a whole (especially local and rural economies) and delivering the environmental benefits that underpin the natural beauty of our landscapes and our tourist industry in turn – a sector which in Devon alone is worth more than £1 billion annually. Locally we know how absolutely critical farmers are to the health of rural communities. And one of my key roles as an MP for a constituency for which farming is so central is to ensure that Government understands that agriculture will need much careful handling and support over the coming years, I have committed to arrange ministerial meetings to feed in local concerns and ideas at the highest possible level as we chart our way through the challenges ahead. We must get farming right, otherwise, here, in Devon, we will surely pay the price.