As far as I can tell the last time the House of Commons discussed agriculture, without having to do so in the context of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) of the European Union, would have been some time circa 1970.
This is set to change. Over the next two years the House of Commons, along with the farming community, the food industry and consumers, will need to debate and decide how, on leaving the EU, we will order food production and farming in the UK. What we decide will have a profound impact on the look of our rural landscape, where our food comes from and how many UK jobs result. Food and drink, including farming, is worth a £108 billion to our economy, so we better not mess it up, the stakes are high.
To work out what our new domestic agriculture policy should look like we have some major questions to answer, for example:
To what extent should the taxpayer continue to subsidise British farmers? Theresa May’s government has guaranteed farmers that the existing level of EU subsidy - £3billion a year - will continue until 2020, but after that?
With 55% of UK farm income coming from CAP support it’s hard to see many farmers surviving without some level of subsidy.
Hill farmers can receive as much as 80% of their income in EU payments, making lamb much cheaper for the customer than it otherwise would be but making their future without a hefty subsidy nigh on impossible.
Should we subsidise all farmers or should we cap payments to the richer farmers, as they already do in Wales? Should the most uneconomic farms be simply allowed to fail? Should subsidies be slowly removed after 2020 or removed relatively quickly?