Politics, challenges and innovation in an uncertain world – its all on the agenda at the East of England Farming Conference

Politics, challenges and innovation in an uncertain world – its all on the agenda at the East of England Farming Conference

Session Chairman Emily Norton, with her overview…  

Is predicting the content of a political debate just 2 weeks after Brexit date a fools game? Impossible to say – I gave a talk on 29 March this year where I fully expected us to be discussing the imminent political melt-down, but none occurred. In any event, whether it’s in or out, the feeling is that we will be facing a late Autumn general election, either to break the deadlock or to refresh the political landscape. As a result, I’m particularly interested to hear what Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman has to say at the East of England Farming Conference political debate. Labour have an uphill battle to engage with rural audiences – out of the 50 most rural constituencies in the UK, none are held by Labour. A Fair Food Act, announced at the recent Labour party conference, arguably stirs up the ‘food as a public good’ debate, and the pledge to achieve net zero by 2030 is typical of the radical and progressive policies being pushed out under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. If we’re facing a second referendum as well as a general election, it will be most interesting to hear whether Ms Hayman is proposing that the CAP or an Agriculture Bill offers the industry better prospects. And would she retain or change the planned Environment Bill, which could have a dramatic impact on land managers across the country.

Alongside Sue Hayman is Paul Temple, of the AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds board. Paul is a well-known and capable advocate of pragmatic modern agriculture and will ensure the voice of farmers is well represented in the panel debate. Don’t forget that the audience and social media viewers also will be on hand with questions and opinions too.

One thing for sure is that the challenges facing farming do not get any smaller. Our final two speakers offer a fascinating balance on the big picture drivers. Matt Shardlow of environmental campaign group BugLife is a prominent critic of intensive agriculture, and Matthew Smith of global feed business AllTech is Vice-President of the fastest-increasing protein consumption territory globally in Asia-Pacific. Reconciling the role that intensive agriculture has in meeting the food, fibre and fuel needs of billions of people, with the environmental impact of doing so, particularly in the context of the climate debate, is critical.

If we have the ability to do things differently either outside the CAP, or even within the content of a CAP national strategic plan, finding a way to bring our shared goals together in a policy framework is more important than ever. Challenging our political influencers in the context of an election and possible referendum that will pit food, trade and environment at the very front of the debate is critical. We may not have more clarity by 14 November, but I hope we can debate the issues with a view to finding consensus and a path to rebuilding our fractured industry.

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