As very few of you will know me, if any of you at all, the best way to start this post is probably to briefly introduce myself and let you know why I’m starting with the subject in the title. I’m a farmer (sheep, wheat, barley, beans, peas, canola, niche berries) from the east coast of the UK on the other side of the pond. I also spend a fair amount of my time writing or thinking about food, farming and the environment. Near the end of last year I contacted Amanda and suggested we collaborate and write a few guest blogs on each other’s sites to give our readers a different national perspective on farming. I know I have a lot to learn about farming in the US! People in the UK have a certain perception of what American farming is like, and I would hazard a guess that the reality is far more diverse and nuanced. It certainly is in the UK.
Farmers in Britain (along with everyone else in the country) are generally very concerned (and if they’re not they should be!) about Britain leaving the European Union. It’s the thing on everybody’s minds, if not lips. That’s not to say that many farmers don’t support leaving, because there are still many farmers who support Brexit, but generally they are concerned about the current uncertainty that has come about.
For the past generation agricultural policy in Britain has largely been dictated by the Common Agricultural Policy which has been established by politicians in Brussels, not London. There has been little in terms of wiggle room and shaping our own national food or farming policy. That is all set to change and currently the politicians in London are putting together a new Agriculture Bill that will set a renewed agenda for farming in the UK.
This said, there is vast disagreement on the nature that this new policy should take. Some people believe that farmland should be managed for ‘public goods’, meaning carbon capture or flood prevention or habitat creation. Others believe we should be investing in agri-tech and looking to boost yields. Britain for example is a great place to grow cereals. As a nation we are famous for our rain! However, it is looking most likely that a significant amount will go towards managing the environment and improving the state of nature on farms. There is also the issue of the price of food in shops and how the consumer is hit and some people out there believe we should be looking to the world market to find the cheapest available food. Others believe we should be constructing a system that supports food that keeps people healthy and reduces pressure on the National Health Service.
The issue, as hopefully comes across, is one of immense uncertainty. Without certainty it is much more difficult for farmers on an individual level to plan ahead, budget or know what to invest in. We are living in a fog in the UK at the moment and until that fog lifts we don’t really know the kind of agriculture we will have in the future.
About Ben: Ben Eagle is a farmer, blogger and podcaster based in the UK. He writes about a wide range of topics on thinkingcountry.com from food and farming to the environment, conservation and general sustainability. Two years ago he launched his Meet the Farmers podcast (available on thinkingcountry and iTunes) which tells the stories of farmers of all types and sizes across the UK. Away from his blog Ben has written for The Guardian, Earth Island Journal, The Sustainable Food Trust, Rewilding Britain and others. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram (@benjy_eagle) or visit his website, thinkingcountry.com .