Where do we go from here? That was a question put to me by a farmer just after Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation. After telling him that I wasn’t sure exactly where “here” was, I was in even less of a position to speculate where we might go! The only certain thing we know at the moment is that future is totally uncertain.
So what effect is all this turmoil having on farming right now?
The uncertain future is causing a real lack of investment in agriculture and that should worry all of us as it puts our future ability to feed ourselves in real jeopardy.
I’ve written many times in this column about food security and how we should cut down on imports, but now with climate change high on the agenda, there’s an even greater need to cut down on food miles.
Therefore, we have a real problem… on one hand we need to feed ourselves with high quality locally produced food and on the other hand we have a lack of investment in the future to enable ourselves to produce that food.
Add to that a further statement by Scottish Government that they want to double the value of Scotland’s food and drink turnover to £30 billion by 2030 and there’s a real frustration that a handful of politicians have held the rest of the UK to ransom.
However, the effect of all the above on farmers is now absolutely real with one farming headline this week stating, “Rural Charities at Breaking Point”.
Delegates at the Farm Safety Foundation’s Conference last week were told that increasing mental health issues actually being reported to doctors in the countryside were “just the tip of the iceberg”. A further report by the Worshipful Company of Farmers pointed out that the usual pressures on farmers, managers and workers such as financial difficulties, isolation and long working hours were being worsened to breaking point by Brexit related issues. Another report added that all the uncertainty caused by Westminster has pushed many in the countryside “towards the cliff edge”.
Reports from the NHS on both sides of the Border point to waits of 12 weeks for mental health referrals which is putting huge pressure on the various farming charities to try and plug that 3 month gap. Now as anyone with mental health problems will tell you … 3 months is like a lifetime when anxiety and depression kick in. It is no use telling sufferers to hang on and wait for help, which is on the way, when that help is actually weeks from becoming reality.
Now, as any doctor will tell you, prevention is better than cure and the prevention here lies in the hands of a few selfish politicians who have been unwilling to compromise on Brexit. It is totally reckless of them to play mind games with the lives of those in the countryside when all of this chaos has been avoidable.
There is more than enough pressure on all businesses at the best of times, but to add this extra level of stress to agriculture is totally unacceptable.
When we get a new Prime Minister, let’s hope that compromise and flexibility in negotiations are one of his or her key qualities … But I’m not holding my breath on that!
In the meantime, the mental health of some of those living and working in the countryside is going downhill fast and that’s a situation unlikely to improve until we get political stability
Catch 22 comes to mind with all of the above factors coming together and in the future the summer of 2019 will be the time we’ll look back on as a turning point … But will we have turned in the right direction with strong leadership? I refer to the start of this column … where do we go from here?