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'A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for Norfolk's farmers' - New NFU regional director outlines policy demands

PUBLISHED: 14:31 16 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:09 16 October 2018

NFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington. Picture: NFU

NFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington. Picture: NFU

NFU

The food produced in agricultural heartlands like Norfolk must take centre stage in the government's post-Brexit policies, says RACHEL CARRINGTON, the new East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

A safe and secure food supply is a privilege, which is why Norfolk food production needs to be taken seriously as we prepare to leave the European Union.

We have a unique opportunity to shape our food policy, and our food security, for generations to come but a policy that ignores food production will be damaging for farmers and the public alike.

The NFU has been absolutely clear about the essential ingredients for a progressive, profitable and sustainable food and farming sector after Brexit.

As well as comprehensive measures to improve the environment and productivity and tackle volatility, we believe it is crucial that we have free and frictionless trade and access to a competent and reliable workforce.

Our view that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for Norfolk’s farmers has been confirmed by the government’s technical notices concerning agriculture.

Under this scenario, farmers would face an immediate trade embargo for many of their products, a situation that would threaten livelihoods and businesses. It would be serious news for the public as well, as food prices could increase significantly if tariffs are implemented.

READ MORE: Farming union appoints its second new East Anglia director in a month

We are working hard to brief East Anglia’s MPs on the policies needed to forge a successful food policy, including producing a comprehensive new report, UK: A nation united by food.

This report stresses that a sustainable and profitable agriculture and horticulture sector isn’t something that’s nice to have, it’s a necessity.

The NFU is also working closely with MPs as the landmark Agriculture Bill continues its journey through Parliament, draft legislation that will help deliver a new domestic agricultural policy after the CAP (the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy).

The key features of this new policy landscape have been debated for many months, culminating in Defra’s Health and Harmony consultation paper.

While many aspects of that document are likely to remain priorities for this government – for instance the introduction of a new system based around public money for public goods – the Bill does not set out how such reform will be introduced.

Instead, the Bill is essentially “enabling” legislation. It provides government with fairly broad powers to provide financial assistance and to make other policy interventions related to land use and agriculture.

We know that the current government is keen to frame its replacement of CAP in the context of a broader “green” Brexit. But this is not simply shorthand for paying for environmental work. The Bill also includes powers to provide financial assistance for improving agricultural productivity, to take measures to improve the functioning of the market, and to intervene in the event of severe market volatility.

It is reassuring that these aspects of the Bill reflect the NFU’s own vision for future agricultural policy, one that supports farmers to undertake important environmental work, to improve the productivity of their businesses and to manage the volatility and tough market conditions that fall outside their control.

The Bill can still certainly be strengthened on many of these fronts. But, once it becomes law, the work to develop an effective and constructive agricultural policy begins in earnest.

Numerous aspects of future agricultural policy may not form part of the final Act of Parliament, such as the detailed approach to phasing out direct payments, budgetary commitments and the balance of emphasis between delivering public goods and food production.

These issues depend on how government chooses to use the powers that the Bill provides and those choices will have a huge impact on NFU members across East Anglia.

So farmers face a crucial few weeks, as the Brexit negotiations near their end game, and a crucial few months as the Agriculture Bill is debated and decided by MPs and peers.

Let us hope the end result ensures a future where farmers, as food producers, can improve their productivity and resilience while caring for the environment, and where our country can continue to benefit from a safe, secure and affordable supply of British food.

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