Changes to funding offer huge opportunity for agriculture

As the Government launches a ten week consultation into the future of farm subsidies, Estates Director John Varley considers the challenges and opportunities facing British agriculture.

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Changes to funding offer huge opportunity for agriculture

British agriculture is at a turning point. Decisions which we make as a result of Brexit will affect us all for generations to come. Perhaps not since the changes to agricultural support brought in after the First World War have we been at such a crossroads.

In light of Britain leaving the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Government has launched a ten week consultation into the future of farm support.

Currently, money is distributed under the CAP based on the amount of land farmed. The Government is proposing instead a new system which would see farmers paid “public money for public goods”, principally enhancing the environment and investing in sustainable food production, as well as, perhaps, investment in technology and skills to improve productivity.

The potential impacts of the proposed changes on farming operations, large and small, will be significant.

However, whilst many observers are viewing the shift of payments from how much land you occupy and farm, to payments for delivering public goods, as bad news for farming, I take a different view. The potential changes offer an opportunity for land managers and farmers to demonstrate clearly to society what they are delivering for public money.  

Current farming systems can pollute, damage natural environments and impact negatively on wildlife.  We need to show, as we have done time and again, that we can raise our game and increase productivity, reduce costs of production, be market leading and at the same time make significant improvements to our “natural capital.”

So whilst we face a lot of uncertainty and challenges, we also have a huge opportunity to take advantage of the new technologies and science available to us to raise our performance and be recognised as leading and facilitating work to deliver enhanced benefits to the natural environment and wildlife. We need to do this in partnership with others and we need to do it across whole landscapes and catchments.

Clinton Devon Estates own and manage more than 17,000 acres of farmland in East and North Devon, and our holdings comprise 30 tenanted farms, two share farms and two in-hand farms.

But this fresh approach should not just be for our farming operations - it cuts across everything we do; our housing and commercial developments, forestry, equestrian and our rented sector.

And while we look to the future we must not forget that we have a rich history of innovation and thought leadership - clearly exemplified by Lord Clinton’s great grandfather, the 21st Baron Clinton, in a speech in the House of Lords in May 1922:

“To lift it from its slough, agriculture calls for a new and bold policy of adventure...  It needs from successive Governments a permanent and, above all things, a practical policy. It needs sympathy and aid rather than subsidies and doles. In brief, British agriculture calls for a coherent vision, for active assistance and scientific research, so as to place new knowledge at the farmer's disposal in a way that he can understand.”

As a 21st century rural estate and property business with roots going back to the year 1550, we realise that businesses which society does not want to exist will not exist, and that innovation and transformation must be constant.

We will be responding to the Government’s consultation over the coming weeks and also working up plans for our in-hand farming operations to be best positioned to maximise the opportunity presented.  We will also be talking to our share and tenant farmers and wider stakeholders and looking at how we can work with them make them more resilient and fit for purpose in the post-Brexit farming models.

Link to the government consultation: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/the-future-for-food-farming-and-the-environment

But our power for good or evil in this world’s affairs in a countryside is enormous

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

to set out against the Scots, the King’s enemies and rebels

– Instructions given by Edward 1 to John de Clinton on 8th April 1298, prior to him leading the Royal army to victory at the Battle of Falkirk. As a direct result the Clinton Barony was formed on 22nd July 1299

Do what you can to elevate your profession. It is an honourable one

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

Handing over something more valuable than we have today,

– Estates ethos

…and the Lord Clinton was, by the whole Council, brought to the King’s presence, who after like thanks was given, was pleased that he should be made High Admiral of England and one of his Privy Council…

– Official record of appointment of 9th Baron Clinton as Lord High Admiral for life on 4th May 1550