‘Bring on Brexit’ say Britain’s emerging farm leaders

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The UK’s more forward-thinking farmers are ready for change as Britain prepares to leave the Common Agricultural Policy in 2019. But they’re worried the Government will get it wrong with the new farming policy that’ll replace it.

Prime Minister Teresa May announced in the Commons on Monday, 18 Dec, that Britain will be leaving the CAP on 29 March 2019. Discussions were already underway with the agricultural industry, she said, over what arrangements would come in “during the implementation period”.

But there’s real concern over what these arrangements will be, according to a group of progressive farmers, hand-picked as Oxford Farming Conference’s Emerging Leaders, meeting ahead of the conference that takes place from 3-5 Jan 2018.

The farmers, many of whom have diversified and expanded their businesses in recent years, recognised that direct subsidy support is likely to reduce. This, they say, is a great opportunity to develop their farming interests further.

But they’re worried the policy changes they’ll be expected to adopt are being put together by “non-agriculturalists”. The uncertainty this brings is stifling their ability to plan.

Signs of honesty and openness from Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, are what they’ll be looking for when he addresses the Oxford Farming Conference as its opening speaker on Thursday 4 Jan.

Among questions they want answered are: what’s meant by a “Green Brexit”, what standards of animal welfare on imports will be upheld and who’s influencing Government when deciding farm policy – farmers or single-issue pressure groups?

“Ahead of next month’s conference, it’s clear that Britain’s more progressive farmers are ready for change,” said OFC director Tom Allen-Stevens. “What we currently lack is a clear sense of direction and an honest commitment to a productive UK farming industry from Government.

“But farmers are accomplished at embracing change and seizing the opportunities a changing landscape presents – that’ll become clear from papers delivered from the conference podium, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the excellent line-up of speakers we have.”

Although tickets for the first day of the conference have now sold out, the opening sessions, including Michael Gove’s address, can be viewed via live-streaming on the OFC website from anywhere in the world. Completely free, registration is now open for those who wish to join – simply follow this link.

Following the Defra secretary, Paolo de Castro MEP, vice-chairman to the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development will put the view from Europe. The US perspective will be set out by Ted McKinney, Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs to the US Department of Agriculture.

During the Q&A session that follows, questions will also be taken from those following the hashtag #OFC18 on Twitter, and from those submitted through the conference app, that’s free and available for anyone to download. Further instructions can be found here.

More on the Emerging Leaders meeting, including a full report of proceedings and a video of their thoughts on embracing change, can be found here.