Here’s why farmers must fight to be heard in 2020
PUBLISHED: 16:15 07 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:15 07 January 2020
Against a new political backdrop, 2020 will be a year when it is vital for the region’s farmers to make their voices heard says Rachel Carrington, East Anglia regional director of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).
I am always impressed with how the agricultural industry sticks together when the going gets tough and 2020 will certainly be a year when it needs a concerted effort to get our messages across.
We have a strengthened prime minister, backed by a large parliamentary majority, and on a mission to "get Brexit done".
This election was an historic one - not in the margin of victory, or the scale of defeat, but in the transformational effect it is likely to have on UK politics.
The Conservative parliamentary party breached Labour's so-called red wall, winning seats in urban, working class constituencies that have never voted Conservative before.
The Labour parliamentary party will be more metropolitan, fewer in number (by post-war standards) than ever before, and representing overwhelmingly remain areas.
Alongside the results in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are more stark electoral divisions between England and Wales and the rest of the UK than ever before.
The election also means that, barring any unexpected developments, we will be leaving the European Union on January 31. We will then plunge straight into complex negotiations about our future relationship, negotiations that must be completed in less than a year.
Against that background, the challenge of making agriculture's voice heard looms large.
The meetings NFU members had with prospective parliamentary candidates in Norfolk and Suffolk were like a warm-up for the main act. Our lobbying must now start in earnest as we meet MPs across the region, to build relationships, and to seek understanding, influence and, ultimately, support for our vitally-important industry.
In my view the key issue, and the one that could have a huge impact on farmers and growers, is trade and the nature of the trade deals struck with both the EU and worldwide once we leave.
The post-election tweets from Mr Trump are no surprise when he says that the way is now open to do a lucrative trade deal. But who will benefit from that deal? Primarily, I would have thought, the USA.
I was struck recently reading about the 24pc increase in farm bankruptcies in the mid-west USA since 2011.
While farmers there have had their fair share of turbulent weather, much of this is down to the trade wars with China. About 40pc of their farm profit now comes from trade aid, disaster assistance and federal subsidy and insurance.
We might all hear on the news about the trade wars between China and the USA but there is little said about the direct impact on farmers and other primary producers.
All this demonstrates that our production and food standards, underpinned by Red Tractor, must be maintained, if not strengthened. These standards are our first line of defence against trade deals that would allow other countries access to our markets for products which are illegal to produce here.
It is inconceivable to think that we could see the sale of eggs produced from hens in cages that are banned here, hormone-treated beef, or chicken produced to lower welfare standards than our own.
But ensuring our standards are protected is not an easy challenge. We all need to play our part if we are going to succeed.
This does not just involve farmers and growers speaking to MPs and highlighting the importance of UK food production and our high standards. Public support and awareness will also be crucial.
As part of this challenge, the NFU is giving consideration to a rally in the spring to highlight the positive contribution that farmers and growers make to producing safe and affordable food, produced to high welfare and environmental standards. It will be interesting to see how these plans develop.
There is a great deal at stake in 2020. We must ensure our agricultural industry is not sacrificed and we must fight to maintain a level playing field in future trading arrangements, for the sake of farmers, the public and the countryside.