Business must be at the heart of the pending farming revolution
By Andrew Merrell | 16th July 2019
A "frank" and "bold" report that puts good business at the heart of farming's future role in the supply of UK food post Brexit has been widely welcomed in Gloucestershire.
The Royal Agricultural University's vice chancellor, no less, has come out in favour of what is billed as a 'a blueprint for the UK's food, farming and countryside system as the UK is set to leave the European Union'.
The independent report called Our Future in the Land was published today (16 July) by the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, chaired by Barclays UK Chair, Sir Ian Cheshire.
At the top of its list of fifteen recommendations in three areas (see below) the report says that at the heart of the sector should be a market which promotes business that promotes healthy food.
"Levelling the playing field for a fair food system" is paramount, it says. "Good food must become good business."
Professor Joanna Price, vice-chancellor of the Cirencester-based university said: "We welcome the commission's report, which paints an honest picture of the challenges facing farming, food production and stewardship of the countryside, and sets out some bold ideas to address them.
"The issues articulated in the report are immediate and urgent and as such they are central to our work at the RAU as we equip the new generation whose careers will be focussed on dealing with them."
In the report's own words: "The actions we take in the next ten years, to stop ecosystems collapse, to recover and regenerate nature and to restore people's health and wellbeing are now critical.
"In this final report, the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission sets out radical and practical ways for policymakers, business and communities to respond to the challenges."
Professor Price said: "The report is refreshing, because as well as being frank about the scale of the problems we face it is a strong vote of confidence in farmers, land managers, and all of us in our communities, to solve them.
"The university strongly agrees with the commissioners that farming can be a force for positive change and that rural communities can thrive as a powerhouse for a green economy.
"This means tackling stereotypes, being open-minded about potential solutions and contemplating major changes in the balance of power within our food and farming system.
"The commissioners recommend a shift in research towards backing innovation by farmers. This is also central to the university's approach and something it supports directly through the Farmer-Led Innovation Network.
"The commissioners also propose that universities help train more farmers to provide quality advice to their peers.
"In a sector that can get very caught up in thinking about what skills the industry needs, it is refreshing that the commission has put people at the heart of the agenda; not only has it asked existing farmers about the role they think they ought (would enjoy) to play, it has also asked what young people want to do in their careers, highlighting latent opportunities for farming and other rural employers.
"The report is timely, as it can inform Henry Dimbleby's process to develop a National Food Strategy, as well as shape wider planning beyond Brexit.
"Crucially, the commissioners empathise with the fact that people's lives and livelihoods are steeped in food, farming and the countryside, while showing that for solutions to be satisfactory they must work for the whole population.
"Their report doesn't claim to have all the answers, but it does offer some bold proposals, and moves the conversation forward in recognising the importance and urgency of asking the relevant questions."
The fifteen recommendations of Our Future in the Land :
Healthy food is every body's business
Levelling the playing field for a fair food system - good food must become good business
Committing to grow the UK supply of fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses, and products from UK sustainable agriculture, and to using them more in everyday foods
Implementing world-leading public procurement, using this powerful tool to transform the market
Establishing collaborative community food plans to help inform and implement national food strategies and meet the different needs of communities around the UK
Reconnecting people and nature to boost health and wellbeing
Farming is a force for change, unleashing a fourth agricultural revolution driven by public values
Designing a ten-year transition plan for sustainable, agroecological farming by 2030
Backing innovation by farmers to unleash a fourth agricultural revolution
Boosting cooperation and collaboration by extending support for Producer Organisations to all sectors
Establishing a National Agroecology Development Bank to accelerate a fair and sustainable transition
A countryside that works for all, and rural communities are a powerhouse for a fair and green economy
Establishing a national land use framework in England inspires cooperation based on the public value of land, mediating and encouraging multipurpose uses
Investing in the skills and rural infrastructure to underpin the rural economy
Creating more good work in the regenerative economy
Developing sustainable solutions to meet rural housing need
Establishing a National Nature Service that employs the energy of young people to kickstart the regenerative economy
The commission's research director was Prof Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak chairwoman in Rural Policy and Strategy at the RAU. He has advised the commission since it started, and led its research projects on issues such as the future of rural work and farming for health.
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