Two articles of interest to me in today's Telegraph. Firstly, an article about challenges facing farming post-Brexit. And secondly, a report, of dubious provenance that UK is to scrap EU renewable energy targets. Let's consider the future economics of farming first. Its all conjecture at this stage of course. We have no real idea of what the position will be.
There are two main concerns facing the farming industry. Firstly there is the annual subsidy payments, guaranteed up to 2020, but not afterwards. The background to this policy of subsidy was the then Govt's 'cheap food policy' after the Second World War. Over recent years it's become an essential support to farming. Many farms would not be viable without the subsidy payment. It's not a healthy position for any industry to be dependent on subsidy into the far distance but a cliff-edge cut off in 2020 would be devastating. Let me take a guess at what might happen post Brexit. Subsidy will gradually move from being universal to being paid for a specific 'public benefit' - principally environment enhancing payments. It's moving that way already. Perhaps this could involve planting up land, currently used for arable or livestock, with trees. I've long thought a forestry expansion programme to make sense, economically and environmentally. Support guarantees would have to be long term, include for public access for recreation - walking, biking activities etc.. Whatever, most switched on farmers are already looking at diversification of one sort or another.
The second concern for farmers, especially sheep farmers in Wales is access to EU markets at nil or manageably low tariffs. Wales is particularly dependent on lamb exports. All the current talk by the NFU about 'food security' doesn't apply here. Hopefully, there will be a UK/EU deal which covers lamb exports, but in the longer run, we could see development of other markets or a gradual move from sheep farming to forestry perhaps.
Now for the possible link with the other Telegraph story - about the UK abandoning EU 'renewable energy' targets. We are legally obliged to access 15% of our energy from 'renewable sources' by 2020. I've always thought trans-EU targets as a nonsense. This 15% target doesn't include energy efficiency, carbon capture or nuclear power. That's makes no sense. While I think the UK will be well rid of EU targets post Brexit, we will need low carbon targets of our own. We need to think laterally. From a global perspective, we would acheive more cost benefit by investing in solar energy in a hot African country than ploughing money into solar in the UK. Such a policy could be linked with our foreign aid commitments. Let us use our UK resources to develop battery technology, carbon capture or hydrogen/electric cars rather than ploughing resources into second rate established technologies which put up the bills of energy customers. Or maybe more biomass from the millions of acres of extra trees we might grow, rather than import timber great distances from faraway countries, as if carbon emissions are not a global issue. We could have a UK renewables policy suited to our own circumstances.
This is all very early consideration of how we might change policy to cope with Brexit. I expect to return to these issues from time to time - and don't rule out having an entirely different perspective next time. We live in uncertain times.