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_Rural Report 2017: Experts from the rural world share their hopes, fears and insight

Stakeholders from the world of rural property, farming and business share their hopes, fears and insight.

May 10, 2017


_Rural Report 2017: Experts from the rural world share their hopes, fears and insight

Stakeholders from the world of rural property, farming and business share their hopes, fears and insight.

May 10, 2017

The Rural Entrepreneur

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones 

The Black Farmer

I believe a combination of Brexit and the changing retail environment make it a very exciting time for those farms and estates thinking about selling their own branded food products. For the past 20 years or so, in a bid to boost their margins, supermarkets have tried with a great deal of success to wean consumers off brands by introducing premium own-label grocery lines. But competition from the discounters and the growth of digital channels, which promise much quicker delivery, are making life significantly harder for them. With the likes of Amazon starting to deliver food, we are set to see big, big changes in the sector, which will be brilliant for small and medium-sized businesses, for whom distribution has always been a problem. Subsidies have been a curse on the industry and encouraged us to be lazy. Without them we will see more innovation and younger people getting involved.

The Agri-Business

Max Winkler

Managing Director, Omex

I believe it is time to accept the realities of the future and embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of us. Amid all the noise and complexity of Brexit it is clear that British farmers will need to speed up innovation to drive efficiencies and maximise profitable output in a competitive global marketplace. There are many forms this can take, depending on your farming activities. In the arable world, we continue to see a move to liquid fertilisers because of

the clear benefits it brings in terms of cost, logistics, yield and the environment. Current farming practices should be tested with new affordable technologies so that British farmers put themselves in the strongest position to prosper post negotiations, whatever the outcome may be in regards to FX rates, input costs, subsidies, tariffs, duties and labour. As previously seen in New Zealand, it’s about being proactive and focused on innovation that brings real value to the farm gate.

The Saviour of Buildings

Dr Anna Keay

Director, Landmark Trust

One of the crucial issues for the future of our historic rural environment is the availability of the craft skills necessary to look after it in the future. While we hear a lot of praise for traditional trades the truth is that in many long-standing family businesses – be it silk weaving, lime plastering or bell making – the older generation is contemplating retirement and the next is simply not interested or able to take up the baton. It is vital that we all find ways of incorporating training and apprenticeships into our own work, not simply as an act of altruism or because it’s a “good thing”, but because the future of our landscape and buildings depends on these skills being passed on. Rather than grumbling about the new Apprentices Levy we need to see it as a reminder that we must act, or we will unquestionably regret it in the long term.

The Conservationist

Katie-Jo Laxton

Director, RSPB Wales

The future of our food, farming and nature are inextricably linked. However, CAP has failed to secure the essential public value that farming can provide – such as clean water, healthy soils, thriving wildlife and a beautiful countryside. Agri-environment schemes have been positive, but have not managed to restore our environment at anywhere near the scale needed.

Leaving the EU presents significant risks that hard won protections for nature will be weakened, but there is also an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise our countryside in ways that better meet the needs of nature, the prosperity of people today and the well-being of future generations. Hill farming is particularly vulnerable, but it is possible to imagine a new regime that underpins upland management based on stewardship of wildlife, natural resources and tourism. Now is the time to reshape public policy and support for land management around environmental outcomes that benefit people and nature.

The Farmer

Andrew Blenkiron 

Director, Euston Estates

‘Fascinating’ is probably the best description of where we find ourselves on rural estates at this present time. Our ability to forge ahead into the future will no doubt depend on just how we have managed to adapt to the challenges of recent years. Looking back through history there is nothing new in that, one could argue that at least this time we have some warning that things are about to change. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy –with the goalposts still very much moving, we will have to either be risk takers or very wise to know just how to pitch. I would suggest that, as always, flexibility and adaptability will be the key to future success. We will have to be ready to redo strategic plans with the short, medium and long terms potentially being very different. Key to all of this will be using our combined influence to help steer the ship in the right direction.

The Corporate Landowner

Lisa Horrowsmith

Land & Property Lead Surveyor, Yorkshire Water

The uplands form a significant part of our catchment in Yorkshire, where tenant and other land managers work to maintain raw water quality, as well as delivering significant value to society, our communities, customers and stakeholders. This is because the land has the capability to deliver multiple outcomes, including improved water quality, biodiversity, carbon storage and sequestration, and recreation, while still supporting grazing and sporting enterprises.

It is essential that those farming in these areas have viable businesses. At the moment, this is not possible without subsidies. Future policy now has the opportunity to look at integrated management for water, food, farming, the environment and societal benefits, and how these all work together to maximise the values. While land managers should not be funded for “not polluting”, funding regimes need to incentivise environmental enhancement and reward those delivering ecosystem services. Post-Brexit negotiations offer the opportunity to work together to reform and develop policies and funding systems that promote and support a sustainable farming and environmental future.

The Rural Landowning Charity

Victoria Edwards

Chief Executive, Ernest Cook Trust

The post-Brexit farm payments debate is talking much about the provision of “public goods.” A pure public good is both non-rival (one person’s consumption of it does not subtract from another’s) and non-excludable (no one can be excluded from consumption). The vast array of goods and services that land supplies lies on a broad spectrum, from pure public goods (such as clean air) to pure private goods (such as food). It will be up to individual owners and occupiers to identify the most valuable bundle of goods and services they might supply and devise appropriate markets and pricing mechanisms to charge for them. Some can be sold through traditional private markets (food, leisure), whilst others will necessitate contracts with government acting on behalf of the public. The role of a good agent will be to maximise the public/private supply mix for the client. No one ever said it was going to be easy, but a thorough audit and appraisal of what each estate or land holding is capable of is a good starting point.

The Farmers’ Champion

Minette Batters

Deputy President, NFU

We are extremely concerned about leaving the EU without having carried out any impact assessment as to what the consequences of trading under WTO default rules will have on rural Britain. If we don’t have a deal and we default to WTO rules, tariffs could be in place that price us out of the marketplace.

One of the big unanswered questions is how we see our future trading relationship with Europe and subsequent trade agreements with the rest of the world. We have to do a deal with Europe and it is a deal that will shape our landscape for generations to come. The problem is that getting free trade deals in agriculture is notoriously difficult. Moreover, we pride ourselves on our quality food production and high animal welfare standards and we want these qualities to be recognised in any future trade agreements. Food security is so important to us all – we do not want to be disadvantaged by imports that do not meet our own exacting standards.

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