Many of the challenges facing farmers in the Brexit age are the same as 15 years ago, the author of a major report into UK agriculture has said.

Lord Don Curry, who authored the influential UK Government report ‘Farming and Food – A Sustainable Future’ in 2002 delivered this year’s George Scott Robertson Memorial Lecture.

The event, which was held in Belfast, was jointly organised by: the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI); Queen’s University Belfast; the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs; and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Recommendations still apply 15 years on

15 years on from the publication of the report, Lord Curry said many of its key recommendations still applied.

He said: “The choices farmers have today are the same as 15 years ago – to be efficient, to add value or to diversify.

They can choose all three, but will struggle to survive if they do not make one of these choices.

“We have a clean sheet of paper on life after Brexit. We should write the script together and be clear about priorities. It is a unique opportunity and the legacy we leave will impact future generations.

“Despite all the uncertainty and confusion that currently surrounds the Brexit process; this is the most important moment in time for a generation.”

He added: “The parallels between 2001 – when I was tasked with chairing the policy commission on the future of farming and food – and the challenges we face today in the light of Brexit make a fascinating study.”

There is no second ‘Curry Commission’ planned. However, Lord Curry said he would be “very happy to endorse” the independent Food, Farming and Countryside Commission – which has just been launched.

“The shared vision we laid out brought us together in 2002 to write the report, and we need this same sense of direction today,” he added.

Legislation and standards

Curry said he was not expecting a “huge bonfire of agricultural regulation” any time soon.

Many people voted to leave the EU because they perceived it to be too intrusive, so we clearly need to remove unnecessary legislation.

“But we also need access to EU markets, so I’m not expecting a huge bonfire of agricultural regulation. We need to maintain high standards.

“Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) presents the opportunity for a tailor-made Domestic Agricultural Policy, and we will have to strike a balance between further devolution of policy and cohesion across the four countries of the UK.

“Lots of organisations are voicing their own versions of what post-Brexit policy should look like, and the question has to be: ‘What are the outcomes we want from the management of the countryside?'”