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What's the future for farming under new prime minister Boris Johnson?

New prime minister Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street. Picture: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire

New prime minister Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street. Picture: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire

The change of prime minister has left farming's future looking murkier than ever, says CHARLOTTE WEBSTER, senior rural surveyor at Arnolds Keys-Irelands Agricultural.

Charlotte Webster, senior rural surveyor at Arnolds Keys.Charlotte Webster, senior rural surveyor at Arnolds Keys.

What a week. As a heatwave sweeps the country, harvest is in full swing here in Norfolk, not to be hampered by the odd thunderstorm.

The winter barley crops seem to be showing good yields despite the lack of rain earlier in the year, with expectations exceeded on both light and heavy land.

And now Boris Johnson is prime minister. With the (current) deadline for Brexit just three months away, National Farmers' Union president Minette Batters has urged Mr Johnson to do everything he can to ensure a smooth Brexit, insisting free and frictionless trade with the EU is crucial.

The president of the Country land and Business Association, Tim Breitmeyer, has also emphasised that a "no deal" scenario should not become the political default option.

At this early stage we do not know what the new prime minister has in store for British farming, an industry that contributes more than £120bn to the economy and employs almost four million people. The leadership race itself did little to bring the detail to the fore.

Immediate concerns tend to focus around the likelihood of us leaving the EU without a deal. Whether a no-deal exit would be passed by parliament is questionable, but we note that when speaking to farmers in Cumbria on July 9, Mr Johnson said that the industry had to prepare for a no-deal outcome - does this suggest he would dare to try, as opposed to negotiating another extension?

The way to prepare, claimed the then would-be prime minister, was by ensuring farmers have "proper protections" and "are given the insulation they need." Of course the specifics of those protections remain elusive.

And what about farming subsidies? We think it unlikely that the decision to phase out the current system will be reversed, but is there scope for a reformed subsidy system instead?

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hill Farming, chaired by former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, has this week agreed to lobby government to continue BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) payments until 2024. And an extension may well be sensible. Concerns have been aired following a first glimpse of England's post-Brexit agricultural policy that the new Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) is unlikely to be ready to start trials in 2021, or even 2022. Any delay pre-trials would likely have a knock-on effect on the intended launch in 2025.

What next then? Well, love him or hate him, we are certainly in for an interesting few months with our "Marmite" prime minister and we will be watching closely to see what direction Mr Johnson takes, assuming he can gain sufficient support. In the meantime it is full steam ahead for what we hope will be a successful harvest season.

- Charlotte Webster is senior rural surveyor at Arnolds Keys-Irelands Agricultural

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