Well, if I were to write to Father Christmas I might ask for:
An understanding of the real needs of farmers – labour is critical, as is an appreciation of the capability of this nation to feed itself while stopping the importation of poor environmental and ethical practices of other nations; regard for the real cost of producing food that is good for people and the environment; an end to the vilification of those that care for the countryside and recognition of what it really takes to put food on the table.
Much has been spoken about the need to link health, national diet, retail policy and farming policy together. Can we stop talking about it and actually start making these logical connections? If we cannot give our population a better diet and improve their access to non-processed, healthy, affordable foods our current health service crisis will finish off the NHS.
The cheapest calories are currently the worst quality ones, so many cannot afford to eat well to improve their physical and mental health. Cheap isn’t the answer, food is expensive; our whole society needs a reset on the real value of a good diet. We need to find a way to ensure that everybody is included.
Investment in research; both plant research (come on, we have permission to employ CRISPR technology, how soon can we be shot of apple canker?) and technical research. Let’s have an apple picking rig that also grades or, at the very least, can tell us what is in the bin to inform storage and sales programmes. Let’s have tech that is exportable to raise our profile on the international stage again; for such a long time innovation has been brought here from abroad, both new varieties of apples and pears and new machinery. It is time to turn the tide and create some competitive challenge.
Investment in people; an improvement in our ability to recruit legions of bright young people to join our exciting industry, developing a generation of excited, engaged growers and salespeople who will put British produce on the international stage ahead of all other producers. We know we can do this, so why are we still not promoting the opportunities effectively?
As is my habit for this edition of my column I’ve had a look back at everything I’ve shared during 2021; I try to maintain a positive balance between good news, sharing opportunities and praise where its due. This year has been tough for everyone and no more so than for those actively farming.
I’m not going to get political, but there is significant pressure on those that represent our sector. This Christmas, please drop them a line and say thank you. I know that many of you do already, but if more of us could find a moment to say thank you to those who are trying so hard to find a way through the legislation, policy and presumptions we are currently mired in, we would sustain them for the mountain still to climb.
The NFU, the beleaguered team at AHDB – no matter what you think of the institution, it’s full of amazing people, RABI, CLA, NIAB EMR, British Apples and Pears, the Summer Fruit Campaign and the myriad of crop associations. They have all supported us and campaigned for what British Farming needs throughout 2021.