The Kent Show is always fascinating as well as fun, and this year in particular the debate about how farming will thrive after Brexit made it especially pertinent. It was good to take part in discussion organised by Rural PLC (Kent), which acts as a focal point for the promotion and profile of rural businesses.
This part of our local economy spreads far wider than farming. Kent’s economy is worth £19 billion, of which £5 billion is generated by businesses located in rural areas. But even so the health of farming and farm businesses is at the heart of the success of Kent’s rural economy. So there is a huge concern about the rules that will control it after Brexit.
The fact that all farmers have to face is that these rules will be very radically different from the ones they have grown used to under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Although the CAP is much better than it was when we had butter mountains and wine lakes, it is still essentially payments for farming land, so the more land, the more subsidy.
Around the edges of the CAP some payments for environmental protection have grown up. The radical change will be that these will be the only support farmers receive under a UK system. DEFRA wants a system that pays for habitats, biodiversity, air quality, and mitigated flood risks. It also wants to maintain high standards of food safety and animal welfare.
In a heavily urban country farming will have to make its case loudly and consistently. In England more than 50% of the average farm income is derived from the support payments. Ensuring that the large urban public is comfortable that this money is being used to provide essential protections we all want will be vital for the future health of Kent’s farm businesses.