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Uncertainty hangs over agriculture

View profile for Ian Barnard
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As we come to the end of the year, there is an argument to say that it has been a missed opportunity for a number of reasons, as there was potential for the year to be ground breaking on various different fronts. The start of the year began with a number of questions and uncertainties such as how energy security would be safeguarded and what would be the inevitable fallout of Brexit. Some people could have even said, with genuine excitement, that there was a real possibility to make changes for the better to the attitude and the way that this country deals with, and supports, agriculture.

Unfortunately, almost 12 months on, and whilst some answers have been obtained, there is still a critical lack of certainty as to how agricultural matters are going to develop. There is still a lack of consensus about what type of Brexit there should be or even whether it takes place. After years of wrangling in Parliament and Brussels, we are now faced with a General Election, where again, there is no certainty as to what the outcome may be or how this will affect those farming the land.

The issue of energy security appears to be on the wane, and has taken a step back from the limelight and the forecast proliferation of fracking sites has failed to materialise. This has been partly because of public opinion and local politicians understanding and listening to the public’s concerns but most notably due to recent reports from the National Audit Office and the Oil and Gas Authority. Amongst the concerns that these reports just could not answer were whether enough gas could be produced, whether it could be produced safely, who would be responsible and what would the consequences be of a site failure, and fundamentally, whether fracking would make any difference to the price and reliability of our gas supply. The simple conclusion was no, and so what was meant to revolutionise our energy supply is now unlikely to proceed unless any strong evidence is produced to say otherwise.

But as one area of polarising opinion subsides, another comes to the forefront, in the terms of environment stewardship of the whole planet. Global warming and greenhouse gases are still aggravating factors but the focus is shifting to how we look after the land and the produce that is grown. This may seem a churlish statement in an area where agriculture is prominent and families have farmed for generations but from genetically modified produce to hydroponics, the agricultural world is changing and farmers need to be able to adapt and diversify, and in some cases embrace new technologies, to continue to put food on our plates without incurring the wrath of the masses. No-one wants to see the Amazon rainforest destroyed for cattle ranches, but such is the demand for food, and whilst this may not be a ‘local’ problem, the resulting questioning as to whether we should continue to eat meat is an example of how the public are more informed and more concerned as to how and where our food is produced.

Here in Ryedale, we are blessed with an abundance of hard-working, responsible farmers who have always had concern for the environment – they know the land and how it behaves, it is part of the family. This caring attitude has mushroomed in Malton becoming the ‘Food Capital of Yorkshire’ and a welcome number of food businesses using local produce. The fact that this reputation continues to grow shows that, if something is done right and responsibly, it will succeed. However, attitudes change, and as the saying goes, what was today’s news may well be tomorrow’s fish and chip papers. There is therefore, no room to be complacent, but the ingenuity, persistence and commitment of those in Ryedale will continue to win through.

Who knows, in the New Year, we may have a new Government, Brexit may finally be concluded and the world may reach a workable solution on how to deal with climate change. Or we could be having the same conversations this time next year!

May I wish you all a prosperous and peaceful festive season from everyone here at Crombie Wilkinson and let’s see what excitements the New Year brings.

Ian Barnard, Director, Head of Company Commercial and Head of Malton Office