9-Month Cycling Tour of UK to help inform future of policy in post-Brexit landscape

Commissioned reports conducted by RSA

Commissioned reports conducted by RSA

Brexit. It’s set to have a whole host of changes on the United Kingdom (UK); changes that the agriculture sector won’t be exempt from. Currently, the UK doesn’t have any of its own agriculture policy in place, relying instead on that provided by the European Union. So, what will the future of farming look like for a post-Brexit UK?

In order to better understand the wants and needs of farmers across the UK, the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) recently completed a 9-month survey of farmers. What made this survey any different from the next, and helped to connect farmers with the process? Participants from the RSA took turns cycling around the country to collect the responses – from the northern most islands in Scotland, to those off the coast of Cornwall. Holding a place of influence in the development of policy within the UK, the RSA undertook this project to help inform the creation of future policy that will benefit and strengthen the agricultural sector post-Brexit. Endeavouring to gain some insight into this space, Belinda met with Tobias Phibbs from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission within the RSA in London to talk about what the future of farming may look like and how growers can strengthen their perceived value in such a uncertain landscape.

Currently, agricultural policy enacted with the UK doesn’t provide any structure to land use and future planning requirements. In building new policy for a post-Brexit landscape, Tobias highlighted the need for the creation of sustainable goals policy-wide; goals that address key environmental, social and economical factors.

Visuals found within the Fork in the Road Report

Visuals found within the Fork in the Road Report

One thing that has been hard for Belinda to ignore throughout her travels of the UK is the beauty of the countryside. While its structure – of rolling fields and hedgerows – is visually appealing, it is not land that is being used with biodiversity and social capital in mind. Talking briefly about the divide between farmers and ‘wild’ environmentalists, Tobias mentioned the need for measures to be put in place that can help to hold wrong-doers accountable, and protect the land and its inhabitants from future degradation. This may mean that in a future post-Brexit state, land will be reevaluated according to more than just its economical value, taking in consideration environmental and social factors.

In past, social factors have largely gone unnoticed in agricultural policy. Recognising the gap, Tobias – who has recently been awarded a Churchill Fellowship – will be using the opportunity to research methods that rural communities in America utilise to overcome adversity in the hopes of finding leadership examples to apply to policy creation in the UK.

One of the key policies currently under scrutiny is the subsidy system here in the UK. Unsure of its place in the post-Brexit landscape, Tobias discussed the challenges that farmers may be forced to face in the near future. With a large percentage of smaller farmers relying on the subsidy to remain viable, the removal of the subsidy would cause a major industry-wide change. Forced more than ever to rely on productivity and market expectations to dictate their production methods, farmers will need to reevaluate their operations and systems, determining whether they can remain viable within the new landscape. Many smaller farmers – who are an ingrained part of their local social and environmental ecosphere – may be pushed out of the industry, fostering a gap where medium to corporate farming will thrive. This may place more pressure on the fabric of what it means to be a community, and it will be more important than ever for those remaining to justify how and why they farm.

For further reading, you can find a copy of the commissioned ‘Fork in the Road’ Report by following this link: https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/fork-in-the-road