Colin Clark MP: Brexit offers a huge opportunity to reshape farming policy and Scotland shouldn't be left-out
Brexit offers a huge opportunity to reshape farming policy to better suit the needs of farmers across the UK, says Colin Clark MP, and Scottish agriculture shouldn't be left out because the SNP do not want Brexit to happen.
Brexit provides us with an opportunity to rethink our approach to farming.
For the first time in 50 years, we can set out our own policy and a replacement to the direct payment system under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove set out the government’s proposals in the Agriculture Bill – which has at its heart an ambition for a cleaner and healthier environment.
In order to achieve that, however, we need to change the narrative.
Rather than farming versus the environment, we should be talking about modern farming working hand-in-hand with the environment.
The UK is already at the forefront of environmentalism in many ways, with animal welfare standards that are second-to-none – not just across Europe but all over the world.
Farmers in many ways are guardians of the environment.
Agriculture has shaped every acre of these islands considered worth preserving.
Soil health and sustainability is essential to maintain yields and the productivity of UK farmland.
Changes to policy after we leave the EU must happen within the context of the wider food and drink industry.
Policy-makers must recognise that if we want affordable food then we must encourage productive agriculture.
If farms are competitive and profitable, they are in a better position to deliver for the environment, the economy and society more generally.
The Agriculture Bill is underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in research and development.
For example, there is funding available for farmers to come together to develop and get the research projects they want and need – whether on soil health or sustainable livestock farming.
The government has also pledged to make payments during the transition period to a new system for farmers to invest in new technologies and methods that boost productivity.
Environmental land management systems are due to start this year. The new approach will be designed, developed and trialled by government working together with farmers.
Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards.
Above all, we need simplicity in these arrangements.
The shopping public have been very supportive buying British on the basis it is value for money, wholesome and safe.
We do not want to see a flood of imported cheaper but lower standard food that compromises animal welfare or the environment.
The provenance of ingredients is also crucial.
A well-intentioned policy forcing farmers – even those in upland areas – to grow three crops on arable land threatened to undermine production of spring barley.
As a Scottish MP, I must also make the point that many of the plans and measures outlined in the above apply largely to England, Wales and Northern Ireland at present.
We are still waiting for the SNP government in Edinburgh to come up with its own vision for farming after we leave the EU.
That is regrettable to say the least. Brexit offers a huge opportunity to reshape farming policy to better suit the needs of farmers across the UK.
Scotland should not be left out because the SNP do not want Brexit to happen.
Colin Clark MP is a Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Member of Parliament for Gordon