Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Politicians need 2020 vision for agriculture

December 23, 2019 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Boris Johnson lacks public trust – and he has such a big majority he can do as he likes, says Clodhopper.

Can this really be it? After the landslide victory for Boris Johnson, in last month’s gene al election, it finally looks like we will leave the European Union at the end of this month.

Some people believe farming does better under a Labour government. Perhaps they think Labour tries harder to woo the rural vote whereas the Conservatives think farmers will vote Tory no matter what. But whatever your voting preference, can we trust anything that anymore says anymore?

With his majority of 80 seats, Boris not only won last month’s election, he more or less ensured that the Conservatives will win the next election too. That means he will be Prime Minister for some time to come – probably for the rest of the 2020s.

But trustworthy? I for one don’t trust anyone. The past few years have shown that today’s politicians – of all stripes – feel able to say what they like and then change their minds later, leaving promises unfulfilled. Maybe it was always that way. Maybe these days it is just more noticeable.

Basic payments

Take one of the biggest issues facing farmers: the future of the basic payment. The Tories want to phase it out. Yet they say have also guaranteed the current budget for agriculture to 2024 – without saying how it will be spent. Will farmers continue to receive it? I think not.

Like the rest of the country, farmers need certainty. Perhaps more so. Farming is a long-term business and requires long term stability. Nothing much should change in the short term but there are still too many unknowns to invest in anything agricultural.

It is disappointing but perhaps not surprising that real answers to basic questions are seldom forthcoming. It is easy to pledge extra funds but where does the money come from?

No guarantees

Despite purporting to value food, no major political party seems to value agriculture as a standalone industry. I guess it is not really surprising as fewer and fewer of us are employed in farming. We are not seen as important voters any longer.

Yet all we really want is a guarantee of fair play and a market that rewards hard work. Unfortunately, the work “guarantee” has little real meaning in today’s world.

Agricultural prices and commodity markets seem to be dictated by the big players with lots of muscle. Alongside the weather, currency movements and political sentiment, of course. But these days it is mainly the big players.

Living wage

It makes it hard for farmers to afford the living wage for workers over 16 years. The living wage seems to ensure a fair amount for everyone except the farmer paying it – which doesn’t seem fair to me at all.

And all this at a time when Boris has more pressing things to deal with. In his mind, anyway: how to leave the European Union on 31 January, keep us out of the EU single market and negotiate a trade agreement with the EU before the end of the year.

By already ruling out an extension to the transition period, the government has really nailed its colours to the mast. Or painted itself into a corner – whichever metaphor you prefer. It promises to be another uncertain year – but at least we are a little clearer where we are heading.

I wish everyone all the best for 2020.

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