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Jeremy's Blog 27th May 2022: Food Security and Business Improvement

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 26th May 2022

“Food security” may have differing meanings but one theme at its heart it is to ensure that we have an efficient, competitive farming sector, resilient in the face of the many challenges coming.

Improving productivity, achieving profit, is not an alternative to environmental improvement; each complements the other. Improved soil health and farming efficiency in using nutrients answers both economics and water quality. Natural systems support farming. Skills will be needed in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

This is essentially for action by farming businesses themselves, with the withdrawal of Basic Payment sharpening the issue. Unsubsidised in England from 2028 (if not from de-linking), the new transactional “public goods” schemes are then options to be considered on their merits in each case, not generally a substitute subsidy. Nonetheless, public policy can help improvement or hinder it.

The classic answers are innovation, investment and skills. While developing new environmental land management schemes (SFI 2022 concerned with soil health), DEFRA has set out more productivity schemes. The Farming Transformation Fund’s third theme, Adding Value, has just been announced ahead of opening in June. That, with the further trailers for the autumn’s slurry storage scheme, shows DEFRA’s new stance, giving forward warning of new schemes to help plan for them. This week has also seen another part of the Farming Innovation Fund announced.

Continuing post-Brexit policy development in agriculture and the environment, yesterday’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill would allow the commercial use of gene edited plants and, later, animals. Meanwhile, the uses of data grow and automation continues to develop.

This is not just about DEFRA policy. In particular, tax policy can help farming across the United Kingdom. The Chancellor, concerned about productivity for the whole economy, is seeking views on how capital allowances can assist. The Agricultural Productivity Task Force (APTF), with the CAAV a member, has urged the higher and stable rates needed for confident investment in the new technologies at the right time.

With the deeper and essential question of giving the right people useful access to land, the APTF has also issued an introductory guide to farm business structures and urged review of the Irish Income Tax relief on rents for farmland let for five years at arm’s length as analysed by the CAAV. Giving good farmers their head will open the other doors.

With little productivity growth for 30 years, a growing population and today’s economic headwinds, the need for improvement is urgent. CAAV Fellows’ advice to farmers and owners will be critical.

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