As published in the Western Morning News - Friday, 19 August 2016
Farming is one of the most, if not the most, important sector for us here in the South West as we head towards Brexit. In London, it is banking and financial services. In the Midlands, it is car manufacturing. In Scotland, it is fishing and oil.
Alongside tourism, both are hugely important to our economy and they must continue to thrive and be supported.
Farmers get a raw deal under the EU, but this doesn’t mean that a vote for Brexit is an automatic golden ticket to higher milk prices, less red tape or queues of young school leavers knocking on doors for jobs to pick potatoes and strawberries.
We will have to work hard to make Brexit work for our farmers, especially here in the South West where they are the bedrock of our economy. Every day of the week, all year round, they graft to put food on our tables as well as their own.
Farming is an art as well as a science, and it needs to be respected and supported as we embark on this challenge of freeing ourselves from the Brussels machine.
During this six month or so window between the referendum and the triggering of Article 50, we have time to strategise and decide what we really want our farming sector to look like in 10, 20 and 30 year’s time.
The EU and its Single Market is a product of globalisation, which although good for some, wouldn't be looked upon with great admiration by many of our farmers. Although the Single Market has brought with it more customers, it also has more competitors, red tape and political uncertainty.
The civil war in Ukraine and the annexing of Crimea by Russia, for example, has caused retaliatory sanctions by Moscow against the EU to ban imports of dairy products. In Britain and the South West, the result is an overproduction of milk and an obligatory fall in prices to dangerous levels.
"Brexit means we have to make things British again. Not just our laws and fishing waters, but our farming too."
Globalisation cannot be un-done. That's why we have to make it work for ourselves, instead of locking our politicians and officials inside European debating chambers away from the real issues for the sake of a Single Market that has restricted our ability to fight for own interests in a globalised world.
That's why we must try and embrace Brexit to strike new trade deals to export our farming goods as well as many other products to other countries.
In the specific case of Ukraine and the EU's blanket ban on member states striking independent free-trade deals, we cannot think on our feet and use this surplus milk for other emerging dairy markets around the world.
Under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), our farmers have been paying their hard earned taxes to subsidise their competitors on the continent by billions of pounds. Under the CAP, they have been continually marooned in red tape, with a subsidy system that has no place in their hearts for its administrative incompetence. Under the CAP, they can't even bury their dead animals and instead must pay for unnecessary and costly disposal.
Brexit means we have to make things British again. Not just our laws and fishing waters, but our farming too. Through Brexit we need a British Agricultural Policy. A Policy which listens to the farmers and doesn't adhere to bureaucratic pen pushing.
We don't need endless directives or regulations telling farmers how wide a gateway should be, we need action to enable them to churn out the milk, meat and vegetables for shops up and down the land.
Although our farmers will happily throw much of the EU's regulation on the bonfire, Whitehall is not immune to it's own bureaucracy, and a British Agricultural Policy requires the Government to have a hard look at what reforms it can implement on its own policies as well as European ones.
For a start, the Rural Payments Agency needs a good shake up after this year's Basic Farm Payment debacle, with farmers having their late payments penalised by thousands of pounds without any prior consultation or justification.
"Our farmers have tremendous determination and spirit ... we must make sure that they have a public and a Government which puts them first, is on their side and will fight their corner."
We need to focus on what they need to succeed, from eradicating TB, to getting the skills they require from a British workforce, to having a Government which ignores EU competition rules and instead buys British food for its civil servants and armed forces, to getting farming on to a sustainable footing that doesn't have to rely on subsidies.
The issue of subsidies will not disappear overnight. As long as our farmers need them, they should receive them, and I'm thrilled to see the Government promising these farm payments until 2020. Yet another nail in the coffin for Project Fear.
Our farmers have tremendous determination and spirit. I see energetic and enthusiastic young farmers coming up who will soon have to take on the reigns of British farming, and we must make sure that they have a public and a Government which puts them first, is on their side and will fight their corner.