A leading agricultural peer has called for an independent commission into the future for farming as the UK leaves the EU.
Donald Curry said the government should seriously consider establishing a commission to help determine the best post-Brexit policies for agriculture and the rural economy.
“Without question, this is the largest challenge for a generation,” he said.
“This is massively important and we are going to get just one chance to get it right.”
Lord Curry’s views are significant because he led the government’s policy commission investigation into the future of farming and food following the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis.
Known as the Curry commission, his investigation and its subsequent recommendations helped rebuild UK agriculture following the trauma of foot-and-mouth.
The commission brought together 10 experts from a range of backgrounds – representing farming, environmental and business interests in the countryside.
Commissioners included representatives from the National Trust and the RSPB – as well as agricultural business leaders and economists.
Its remit – which covered England only – was to advise the government on the best way to create a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector.
This is massively important and we are going to get just one chance to get it rightDonald Curry
Lord Curry – a farmer in his own right – told Farmers Weekly he believed Brexit would present an even bigger challenge.
“I think it would be in the government’s interest to seriously consider setting up a similar process for the one I was responsible for in 2001,” he said.
The original Curry commission canvassed the views of dozens of different interest groups and held a wide-ranging consultation which attracted some 1,300 reponses.
Its recomendations included rewarding farmers to look after the countryside – and led to the creation of entry-level and higher-level environmental stewardship.
Other recommendations set out a range of “market solutions”, including increased collaboration between farmers and closer links with consumers.
Lord Curry said the process worked well then – and a similar process would work again now.
The involvement of so many people led to a much more rounded report and set of recommendations than would otherwise have been the case, he said.
Because so many people and organisations – including minority groups – had an input into the report, lots of people felt their voice had been heard, said Lord Curry.
“All the stakeholders felt they had an opportunity to contribute to the debate. The willingness then to help deliver the vision we outlined in the policy commission report was very strong.”
The same would be true post Brexit, suggested Lord Curry.
Stakeholders would feel much more enthused about implementing a post-Brexit agricultural policy if they have been actively involved in the process of devising it.
A domestic agricultural policy should also consider the wider implications of food and farming policy for international trade and development, renewable energy, health and education.
This meant the remit needed to be much broader than just Defra.
“An independent study could provide the whole of government with a vision that was much more comprehensive and holistic than a Defra-led study would be.”
Asked who should chair a new commission, Lord Curry said it would have to be someone who had the confidence of the industry.
Effectively ruling himself out, Lord Curry said a farm Brexit commission would have to be “new and fresh” – and he would not be the right person to do it for a second time.
“I am saying this because I genuinely believe government would benefit from this approach.”