When times are hard, it is good to have friends. Few people like facing a challenge alone – and when uncertainties abound it is comforting to know people are rallying to the cause and we are not left on our own.
Farming faces big uncertainties right now – and the sector will need all the friends it can muster over the coming months and years. We are weeks away from a general election and the next government will forge a new direction for agriculture as we leave the European Union.
That direction is less than clear. So too is the eventual destination. Industry leaders have called on politicians to make agriculture a priority. Rightly so – we wouldn’t expect anything less. But so far, it appears those calls have fallen on deaf ears.
Let’s be frank: we live in a post-industrial society. Farming is way down the list of politicians’ concerns. That isn’t how it should be, of course. We know that. But that is how it is – certainly for the vast majority of our MPs and peers.
Yet agriculture is a long term business and needs certainty to thrive. Farm commodity prices increased in the months as the value of sterling tumbled in the wake of last year’s Brexit vote – and so did the value of basic payments calculated in Euros.
But the longer term has seen the flipside of that coin. Over the past six months, the cost of farm inputs has risen by more than 6% – larger due to the falling pound which has pushed up oil prices and the cost of other inputs based on fossil fuels.
Farm profit margins are tightening. Yet it is increasingly apparent that politicians lack a coherent vision for the industry. There is no direction, let alone a road-map of how to reach the eventual destination. Agriculture risks being sidelined as other sectors take precedence.
We need to raise our game: we need to show the importance of farming – and not just in terms of food production. And we need to show it to the public, not just politicians. If the future of farming becomes an issue of public concern, then the politicians will sit up and take notice.
This summer is an opportunity to do just that. Thousands of non-farming folk will attend a farm show this year – and hundreds of thousands will visit a farm on Open Farm Sunday, which takes place on Sunday, 11 June.
Let’s show them all what a great industry agriculture is, what it delivers and why it is important. By facing uncertainty together, we can all help forge a better future.