1:00 a.m. on November 26, 2021
We are now starting to understand where the big winners and losers stand after leaving the EU and the devastating experience of Covid-19.
There is no doubt that one of the greatest opportunities arising from this is the potential for the development of a sustainable and local agri-food industry.
The disruption of normal imports and exports to Europe has forced a change in attitude regarding both the origins of many of our food products and what we do with them after primary production. The Covid has allowed us all to review the local agenda and understand the importance of our regional and very local producers. This gives us a powerful opportunity to accelerate this important sector.
It is crucial that the complex issues needed to move from “field to fork” are fully understood. This comes at a time when the farming community is grappling with the shift in government subsidies from basic farm payments to payment for environmental services.
To ensure that North Devon is ready to pick up and lead on this topic, work is currently being undertaken in the form of a food mapping exercise. This is already underway and should produce an interim report at the start of the new year. The scope of this report is not limited to general food production, but also to the number of our public sectors that buy their food, such as schools and hospitals. Too often, we find that we are relying on central supply networks, many of which are well outside our region. This is the first and probably the most interesting challenge to take up, so that local producers can be used as a reference supplier for local institutions.
There are some great initiatives which, in addition to the mapping exercise, include the British Farming Day where Westminster MPs can advocate for the importance of agriculture in our local food supply chains and the management of our campaign. . The NFU supports this and champions the importance of food production and food security. They also published a strategic report, which links with the export market and the hotel industry. They also began to understand how to deal with the challenges of staff shortages.
The government is attentive to this debate.
Within Defra there is a series of excellent projects. The Treasury is also advancing its plans for the replacement of the European Union’s funding program, which will be replaced by the Shared Prosperity Fund. This will not only focus on towns and cities, but will clearly focus on rural and coastal communities.
We are also awaiting the final details on the “Leveling Up” white paper and something that could be of even more benefit to the North Devon economy, which comes under the title of a “County Deal”.
A lot of good things are happening. What we have to make sure, however, is that it is not just about wind, but a program that delivers concrete actions.
North Devon has enormous potential to achieve this and the support of producers and consumers should now be gathered to highlight how this can be part of stronger growth for our rural economy.