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Fast Changing Farming Scene

It was a strange moment as I hung up my headphones for the last time in Studio A at MFR last week … after all it had been 13 years since I walked into that same studio and made the first programme. As I took the obligatory Facebook picture to record the event, I took a moment to reflect the changing scene in farming over that time and wondered what changes the next 13 years might bring. Sadly I have no successor to record the next events as we enter what will be one of the most extraordinary times that UK farming will ever see.

The headlines on some of the items I would have dealt with for the coming week revealed some of the challenges that those who live and work in the countryside will be facing with the top four topics as follows …

“Farms face no deal cliff edge”, “Stolen machinery used as currency by organised gangs”, “Michael Gove fails in his moral duty to feed the UK” and “Farmers must adapt to climate change within 25 years”.

I am going to avoid the temptation to use the Brexit word today as I’m still convinced there will be some sort of a deal in place between the UK and the EU by March next year. It will be a fudge, but as I’ve said here before any divorce is a messy business – and that’s where I’ll leave that for now!

However, the second headline really concerns me as the note from leading countryside insurer NFU Mutual points out that two stolen vehicles from Scotland worth no less than £96,000 were recently recovered in Lithuania. The insurers also said that stolen tractors had been found as far away as Africa and the Far East and all had false identities to avoid detection.

It would appear that the days of the petty thief stealing scrap from farms is fast being overtaken by organised crime gangs who now target higher value machinery. The police point out the reason for this shift is the criminals now use as high value goods as a form of currency following tougher money laundering legislation. So, get yourself some decent lock-up premises, tracking devices and CCTV and the final word from the police on this one … “prevention is better and less painful than dealing with the after effects of a theft”.

I will leave the Michael Gove headline for another day as the “B-day” politics play out a bit more. I have noted in this column before that any government which doesn’t have a sustainable food policy at its heart must be seriously questioned. The Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright echoed my feelings last week when he said that “producing enough of our own food in the UK is quite simply a matter of national security.”

The fourth headline is perhaps the most worrying in the long term as the facts behind climate change are now beyond dispute …

The last four years have been the warmest ever on record worldwide and ocean levels have risen by nearly 80mm since 1993. The United Nations (UN) climate change panel pointed out the above facts last week and added that average global temperatures will rise by at least 1 degree Celsius over the next 25 years. To you and me this might not seem a lot, but when the UN tell us that the last 1 degree rise took 125 years, then I’m more than a bit worried. The USA is already adapting to the extreme weather events which are fast becoming “normal” around the world. They are changing their cropping by growing cotton where they would have grown maize and wheat and breeding cattle which are more tolerant to heat.

Trying to alter the rate of climate change is a long slow and painful process as the UN point out that the 2015 Paris climate change agreement won’t have any real impact until after 2050. It’s like stopping a supertanker … you can’t just put the brakes on when you see the harbour wall!

In my lifetime of farming, changes have come thick and fast with increasing mechanisation, joining the EU, milk quotas, foot and mouth, devolution of farming powers to Holyrood, the advent of supermarkets and trade on a worldwide scale to name just a few … However all of that will seem pedestrian as move ever faster through the gears of change over the next few years.

I am sorry that I won’t be reporting it all on my local radio station any more, but the good news is that I will be podcasting and blogging about the changing farming scene via my own website – do take a look – and of course my team and I will be on our usual social media channels … do follow us and keep up to date!