Opinion: Farms need profits to deliver on the food strategy

Henry Dimbleby produced a well-researched and mainly balanced report on food strategy. I agree with most of it, but some parts I don’t.

However, if the government decides to adopt his ideas – after six months of digestion and further parliamentary debates – it may turn out to be the first official food policy our country has had for 50 years.

See also: National Food  Strategy report claims examined

Will it happen? Who knows (although international trade secretary Liz Truss’s determination to do trade deals around the world that will lead to tariff-free imports of sub-standard food do not fill me with optimism).

About the author

David Richardson
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
David Richardson farms about 400ha of arable land near Norwich, Norfolk, in partnership with his son Rob.
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But what does “The Plan” mean to individual farmers? More particularly, what does it mean for our farm? I’ve been doing an assessment.

Mr Dimbleby proposed that a tax on sugar should be introduced. This would be bad news for sugar beet growers, which we were until a couple of years ago.

But we were so unhappy with the price British Sugar offered growers that we gave it up. 

Instead, we replaced it with fodder beet and stubble turnips to be grazed by sheep, thus falling in line with another policy advocated by Mr Dimbleby, as part of his desire to see the improvement of our soils.

He saw the reintroduction of livestock onto arable farms as a key element of regenerative farming which, in my view, is integrated farming by another name – something we’ve been practising on this farm for 30 years.

“Work with nature, not against it,” said the report. I agree. We’ve minimised our chemical use and planted flower-rich headlands around our field margins for years.

And where the land is shaded or there’s a wet patch that never produced an economic yield, those areas have been left to nature, with some of them planted with belts of deciduous trees.

Mr Dimbleby also wants us to eat 30% less meat, and more fruit and veg. I fully understand the feelings of stock farmers and sympathise with them.

But personally I don’t eat meat more than three times a week. My appetite is smaller than when I was young and I favour small helpings of high quality these days. I also try to eat my five a day.

Educate the young to improve their diets, he says. No sane person could argue against that, and we support Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) and Open Farm Sunday, which are some of the best examples of what can be done.

This is an ongoing task, as every new generation needs educating.

Farm sustainably, says Mr Dimbleby. And we do our best, as I hope the above makes clear.

I do, however, think it is a bit much to load farmers with the responsibility of mitigating the carbon emitted by the aeroplanes flying above us.

That, and a few other things apart, I think Henry Dimbleby and his team have done a good job – and we as a farming business, and I personally, have anticipated as much of it as we could and prepared for change.

But one of the most important things the report declared was that “farms are businesses, not philanthropic hobbies, and need to make profit”.

It called for current aid to be extended beyond Defra’s intentions. In other words, it warned how potentially destructive the government’s current plans are.

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