Coronavirus: Govt urged to pause Brexit farming policy plans

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has called for a 'further period of reflection' due to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on British farming
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has called for a 'further period of reflection' due to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on British farming

The government has been told by tenant farmers to pause plans for the upcoming post-Brexit policy change in food, farming and the environment.

With the UK’s exit from the EU and the end of the transition period in December 2020, it remains the intention of the government to begin the transition to a new food and farming policy.

However, the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has argued that a 'further period of reflection' is necessary before significant adjustments are made due to the Covid-19 situation.

TFA National Chairman, Mark Coulman, said “It feels like the government’s strategy for food, farming and countryside policy was set in another era. Everything has changed massively in such a short period.

"We all need time to reflect about how we respond as we re-map what our future looks like, not just domestically but globally.

"It might be the case that we decide to follow the same or a similar strategy, but we must give ourselves the opportunity to reconsider the best way forward.”

Much of the farming industry has capitalised on the growth of the food service sector, out-of-home eating, convenience shopping and wider diversification.

But these have all but disappeared in the UK government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, with retailers handed the monopoly on delivering food to consumers.

“Panic buying, closed restaurants and takeaways, empty supermarket shelves and restrictions on imported food were unthinkable concepts just a few weeks ago," Mr Coulman said.

He said the Covid-19 crisis has underlined 'just how fragile we are': "We should take the opportunity of looking at ways to build future resilience for our food and environmental security.

"We won’t do this through slavish adherence to the plans we laid prior to the current crisis. Neither can we afford to jump to knee-jerk changes without proper consideration.”

The first step along the way is to decide whether the Agriculture Bill contains the right framework for developing future policy for food and farming, the TFA suggested.

While there are voices suggesting that the current Bill be scrapped, the group said it does not think that is necessary.

However, it does believe that the government needs to push back the start of policy transition from 2021 to 'at least 2022'.

"At the same time, those aspects of the Bill around food security, the importance of food production, targeting active farmers and the operation of supply chains should be strengthened to be equal with environmental priorities,” said Mr Coulman.

"This will give us a firm basis for a resilient food, farming and farmed environment policy for the future.”