What will agriculture in the UK look like after Brexit?

The potential for land use change and changes in land management to support climate mitigation is huge. The right decisions at the optimum time will also be significant in providing resilience for farm businesses.

In this week’s blog, Rachelle Ngai reflects on some of the upcoming changes to UK agriculture and what these mean for farmers.

My recent stay in the old dairyman’s farmhouse, now converted self-catering accommodation at Portnellan Farm at Loch Lomond made me wonder afresh how farmers can make sense of all the emerging rural land management wish lists and policies.

The Scott-Park family who run Portnellan Farm, a 94 ha organic grass-fed beef farm and agritourism business had started diversifying their business in 2000 and haven’t looked back since. The changing political and social landscapes of time has instigated significant changes to how the land was managed from a mixed farm – to dairy – to organic dairy – to organic beef farm. They have been organic for 20 years, producing organic milk for 9 years before changing to organic beef. These changes have been good to them, but not without significant challenges.  Now with the phasing out of EU CAP approach, all farms are needing to consider their options. However, many of these options appear indistinct and more than a little confusing. With talk about ‘natural capital’, ‘public money for public goods’ and ‘payment for outcomes’ investing in change feels risky without any certainty of payment. On top of this, the farmer has to also consider a changing climate for their farming activities.

The potential for land use change and changes in land management to support climate mitigation is huge. The right decisions at the optimum time will also be significant in providing resilience for farm businesses.

Three years ago, the UK Climate Change Committee published a report on Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change. The report emphasised the need for land to become a more effective carbon store and that early action decisions on changes to land use and in land management delivered significantly more benefits. Our JBA research underpinned this report.

Since World War Two, the UK has substantially focussed on how to squeeze every last agricultural benefit out of our land and we are now trying to understand how we can possibly measure, quantify and even monetise all the other benefits and disbenefits arising from farming. And at the end of the day, I pondered walking around the farm, the history and deep understanding the Scott-Parks have is under-appreciated. We are reliant on farms like this and farmers like the Scott-Parks to continue to provide us with our food, but we also want them to allow us to access their land, enhance the habitat to allow the wildlife populations to thrive (such as the hedgehogs, badgers and even ospreys to name a few), help manage water runoff and water quality, educate veterinary students, and finally to be good custodians of our British landscape.

It seems to me that we are again at a tipping point, much like the key decision and the resources put into achieving food for national self-sufficiency at the end of World War Two. We could be seeing fundamental reform that could hugely benefit farmers and the country, now and for future generations. However, it will be much more complex than having a relatively simple policy for food self-sufficiency. Although I eagerly regard this as a golden opportunity to change the whole system to benefit all, you just cannot forget that farmers, such as the Scott-Parks, are working 24/7, 365 days a year, trying to make sense of all the changes and have no guarantees of future income.

Want to know more?

You may also be interested in Nature Based Solutions – Roadmap to deliver more Natural Flood Management published | JBA Consulting



Leave a Reply