Oxford Farming Conference 2018 | Food Security & the post-Brexit world

15th February, 2018

It was a particularly busy Oxford Farming Conference this year, in part due to the announcement that was being made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove. ‘Embracing change’ was the strap-line of this year’s Oxford Farming Conference, very apt given the current political climate. It was clear from the conference that those involved in agriculture recognise the absolute necessity for change and technological innovation in order to address serious challenges facing the world, such as; food security, pollution and climate change.

Subsidy payments protected until 2024

It has been an unsettling time for those working in agriculture, with the future of subsidy payments unknown and with little insight from Government, up to now, regarding what the sector will look like post-Brexit. Brexit also impinges more on agriculture than any other sector in UK industry and the European Union is also a critical market for the UK in terms of imports and exports.

At the conference Mr Gove reassured farmers that ‘basic’ subsidy payments will remain until at least 2024, essentially giving farmers a five-year transition out of the EU. He also stated that the amount of money available will be protected until the end of this Parliament in 2022.

A Green Brexit

“A desire to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited.” Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In his speech Michael Gove talked of the Governments vision for a ‘Green Brexit’ and for the desire “to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited.” He made it clear that farmers who enhance and protect the environment and who deliver “innovation and dynamic approaches to improving the environment” will be rewarded.

Investment in technology

As well as focusing on areas such as flood prevention and increasing public access to the countryside, Investment in technology is a key focus for the current government. Mr Gove expressed that they would particularly like to see investment within automation and machine learning; including precision kit and sensor technology.

With regards to communication infrastructure, Mr Gove commented on the governments focus to ensure those in rural areas get the digital infrastructure they need.

Whilst many who attended the conference were very keen to hear what Michael Gove had to say, there were also many other serious issues that were discussed, such as; pollution, food waste and food security. Here are some points which Abi Rule, Cornwall Trade and Investment’s Business Engagement Manager for the Agritech sector, found of particular interest:

  • Brexit impinges on agriculture almost more than any other sector in UK industry
  • The Government will pay the 2019 BPS scheme on the same basis as it does now, with subsidy payment remaining until 2024
  • Plans for continued support for countryside stewardship agreements entered into before March 2019
  • The amount of farming support (in cash terms) will be protected until the end of this parliament in 2022
  • Environmental protection is a key mission for this government and the principle public good the government will invest in is “environmental enhancement”
  • Public Money for Public GoodsMichael Gove talked about the need to invest in technology, skills and rural resilience

The need to focus on education

“More needs to be done to encourage schools and our children to learn about the importance of what they are eating.” HRH The Princess Royal

HRH The Princess Royal reiterated a point that was made many times over the course of the conference and that was on education. Princess Anne talked of the clear disconnect between our educational system and the challenges agriculture is facing.  She emphasised that “more needs to be done to encourage schools and our children to learn about the importance of what they are eating.” Going on to say that our curriculum for food and nutrition is “frankly, not good enough…”

Cornwall is a pioneering region

Attending the Oxford Farming Conference left me feeling very grateful that I am part of Cornwall and its innovative community. The region is tackling world-wide issues such as food security and pollution on a daily basis. I was also reminded of the spirit and ability to pioneer that permeates Cornwall and also the level of resilience within the regions farming community.

Cornwall is inherently agricultural, with over 80% of the regions land farmed; we have unique climatic advantages which allow for year-round crop production. We have established and competitive supply chains, innovative producers, a rapidly growing tech cluster and unrivalled rural connectivity. This makes Cornwall a unique region for businesses to establish and grow.

The region recognises the importance of technological adoption and advancement and we are driving it through initiatives such as Agri-Tech Cornwall & The Isles of Scilly , a funding programme providing businesses with the opportunity to innovate within the agri-food sector.

Not only does the region offer businesses significant RD&I opportunities, there’s a plethora of business support in the region offered through programmes such as; Cornwall Trade and Investment,  BIG2, Marine-i, Unlocking Potential, The Growth Hub, LEADER and more.

If you are interested in finding out more about the opportunities in Cornwall, Or if you are thinking of expanding your business to Cornwall, please get in touch: abi@investincornwall.com

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