What does agriculture need from Brexit?

What does agriculture need from Brexit?

This could be a very short article because, if I were to answer the question in the title with one word, it would be: certainty. And knowing that the public probably feel they have heard enough from politicians in recent months, I am tempted to leave it there.

However, the question of what agriculture needs from Brexit is one which does deserve further consideration. After all, it is arguably the sector most affected by our relationship with the European Union.  

The constituency where I’m standing as Conservative candidate – Brecon and Radnorshire – is the largest constituency in England and Wales. It’s bigger than Luxembourg. It is the heart of rural Wales, with thousands of beef and sheep farmers working 24 hours a day not only to deliver world-class produce, but also to provide the very foundations for the rural economy. These farming families are also directly responsible for maintaining and enhancing the breath-taking landscape which millions of tourists flock to see. Not everyone in our part of the world farms, but all of us need farmers to make sure that our rural areas have positive vibrant futures.  

The town of Builth Wells in Brecon and Radnorshire is also home to the largest agricultural show in Europe – the Royal Welsh Show. This jewel in the crown of farming showcases everything that is good about Welsh farming from our high welfare standards to our delicious local produce. This summer, the Royal Welsh Show took place amidst the chaos of the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election – and only a few days into the premiership of Boris Johnson. The Showground became like a boxing ring, with different candidates and commentators aiming to land their blows. Claims around the future of agriculture became more and more extreme. Wild threats came from the Liberal Democrats as to what might happen in the case of a no-deal Brexit; some even went as far as to claim that farmers would be euthanising animals on 31st October and generations-old farming businesses would go to the wall overnight.

Understandably, these unfounded suggestions cause widespread alarm.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of agriculture to Wales. Over 52,000 people in Wales work our land every day to provide the ingredients for our Welsh food and drink industry, worth almost £7 billion and employing almost quarter of a million people.

Farming and rural communities, however, are much more than numbers. Farming is the fire in the Welsh dragon; it is the essence of Wales itself. It is responsible for communities, culture and camaraderie – all of which would be irreplaceable if the future of agriculture were threatened.

The biggest threat to agriculture is uncertainty – which is why a Conservative government is exactly what the Welsh agricultural sector needs. Only a Conservative government can offer the certainty of a positive Brexit deal – and steer us away from the continuing chaos we have seen throughout the last few years.

Throughout the campaign so far, I have spoken to countless farmers at livestock marts and around kitchen tables. Their overwhelming message is ‘get on with it’. Farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire are highly efficient and resilient businessmen and women. Through years of experience and proper planning, they have withstood droughts, floods, disease and governments of different colours meddling with the regulations affecting their businesses.

I firmly believe these businesses won’t just survive Brexit but that they will thrive in the new world.

Rather than a Common Agricultural Policy – which binds our farmers with too much admin and not enough freedom – we can create a bespoke, tailored plan; one which provides for an open, competitive trading market and fairly compensates farmers for the range of public goods they deliver – whether that be animal welfare, water management or environmental enhancement and maintenance.

An agricultural policy that supports our farmers and recognises and underpins food production can boost our self-sufficiency. Under the CAP our self-sufficiency sits at a pathetic 61%. After years of decline we should be looking to grow this figure while seeking out new markets around the world where we know there is demand for our fantastic products.

We can channel some of the money we no longer send to the EU towards a solution that can finally rid our farmers of the evil that is Bovine TB – a solution that uses all of the eradication tools available to us.

We can ensure that future labelling properly underpins the integrity of  our produce – offering the consumer full transparency and clearly demonstrating the ‘value-add’ that is the Welsh brand both at home and abroad.

We can embrace emerging technologies like gene-editing and advanced plant breeding, enabling arable farmers to grow crops resistant to disease and reducing our reliance on pesticides. Indeed, free of the precautionary principle, farmers can use all the tools in the crop protection toolbox.  

In short, only a Conservative government can offer clarity and opportunity to the farming sector. The other parties – not known historically for their farmer-friendly characteristics – will only provide further confusion and delay. Farmers in my constituency have had enough. 

Brecon and Radnorshire’s farmers – like those around the country – are determined, resilient, organised and positive. They need their government to be the same.  There is a Brexit deal on the table that will provide the stability that the agriculture sector needs. We just need a Parliament that will vote for it.