Land Managers will still need public support post-Brexit I am proud to be a farmer. I may be part time, ours may be a very small farm, but we feed some people and are also responsible for a small part of Cumbria’s rich tapestry of landscape. So we were directly affected by the Treasury’s decision to support UK agriculture with the same amount of money as it received as a member of the European Union until 2020. This short term certainty gives us time to build a new agricultural policy that should be fit for purpose, not one that we have had to rush and cobble together quickly. It is exciting that for the first time in over 40 years we can write our own rural policies, but we have to make sure that we get them right. The farming lobby is already arguing for food production, and that we should be more self-sufficient – if we started feeding ourselves with only home produced food from 1 January we would run out in early August. In a world facing economic, environmental and political uncertainty, is it wise to count on being able to “buy in” basic needs? Our farmers must produce food, and I believe that most of us want British farmers to do so. Dame Helen Ghosh at the National Trust has called for farm support to only be available for the benefit of wildlife and the environment. For everything else, food production, water quality, flood management, great holiday experiences, farmers should be paid by food manufacturers, utility companies and the tourism industry. In principle this sounds fine, but in reality? Sadly, very few farm businesses are viable without support by the CAP, especially in the Uplands. And we need to clarify that this support is no longer the “subsidies” we were uncomfortable with, and hasn’t been for ten years now. Farmers are not encouraged to produce as much as possible, regardless of the market or their effect on the environment. In fact we could now say they produce despite the market. Farm support does not push up the price of food in the shops. It should actually pull it down, as produce can and does leave the farm at less than the cost of production. Without the fixed basic payment per hectare, many farms, especially family farms, would go under. Food manufacturers’ responsibilities are to their shareholders, so why should they pay farmers more than they have to? Yes, there are a number of businesses who do try to ensure they pay producers a fair price, but these deals are usually linked to the cost of production plus a fixed margin. The usual incentives to a business that wants to thrive are denied to farms in these agreements. Much of farm produce is a commodity, and because of factors including seasonality, perishability, storage limitations or cash flow issues, farmers usually have to be “price takers”. With added-value opportunities limited to niche products, to stay in business the industry will be driven to chase economies of scale to spread fixed costs more thinly. Farms – and fields would get bigger, hedges and little pockets of woodlands could disappear, as would our family farms as “grow it cheap, pile it high” became the norm. Environmental corners would be cut – literally and metaphorically - and forty years of biodiversity gains would be put at risk. These gains could also be lost if we saw land abandonment and unplanned rewilding leading to unattractive monocultures. United Utilities have tried charging their customers more for their services in order to invest in the farms and farmers in their catchments, but this has only been on a limited basis. Payments to land managers to help control flood waters are being discussed at the moment, but it looks as if these would have to come from the public purse. And as for tourism, the famous author Bill Bryson once said, “One of the primary reasons so much of the British landscape is so unutterably lovely and timeless is that most farmers, for whatever reason, take the trouble to keep it that way”. Put in perspective, the total EU spend on UK farmers is £3.1bn a year. Tourists to Cumbria alone spend over £1bn a year and we know that they are mainly drawn by our landscapes. But how could that money find its way to our farmers? Our National Parks are not like some in other countries, where visitors have to pay to enter. We have no toll booths on roads or turnstiles on footpaths. A “tourism tax” applied at hotels, bed and breakfasts or campsites cannot help an area like Cumbria where we have so many day visitors who are simply passing through or who are staying elsewhere. Even then, when we have so many long views and wide landscapes, “public consumption and benefit” can be many miles from those responsible. So I believe that until we can develop mechanisms to pay farmers directly for the public goods and benefits they produce, often at a cost, we will have to continue publicly funding them, but with two provisos. I used to argue that farmers had the right to do anything on their own land that was legal and met all welfare and environmental codes. That too many other people were trying to tell them what they could do. I would say that there was a difference between people who were interested in the countryside, and those who had an interest – financial. If farmers need to accept public money, then we have to accept that the public now has a financial interest in our business, and that their opinions, where practical and supportive, should be listened to. And secondly, that farmers refer to themselves as land managers, a better reflection of what they do for everyone else, and a title that would make public money for public goods more understandable and acceptable. I do like being a farmer though.