In this blog post, Sir William Worsley, President of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, offers his thoughts at the start of a new farming year.
We live in strange times. Yet again we have been locked down and as I write this the snow is falling creating a beautiful white landscape outside my window.
This pandemic will not last forever, the vaccine is now being rolled out and hopefully in the summer we will all be able to get together again and enjoy a Great Yorkshire Show.
Last year’s virtual show was wonderful but there is nothing like a proper show and I am really looking forward to it.
A county to be proud of
The Yorkshire Agricultural Society is one of the few Yorkshire institutions that covers all the counties of Yorkshire. It is an important institution as the rural beauty of Yorkshire is one of its great charms. It is known as ‘God’s Own County’ for a reason. It has two National Parks and is part of another, has Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a wonderful coast and very much more.
Yorkshire has vast stretches of unspoilt countryside and this needs to be managed. It is here that farmers and landowners are important because the beauty of our environment needs looking after.
Agriculture is an important industry. Farming and its ancillary industries employ many people and help sustain the rural economy. It is here that the Yorkshire Agricultural Society has a part to play. It was formed in 1837 with the objective of promoting farming and rural life, and the Great Yorkshire Show is a shop window for the farming industry.
Testing times and the need for balance
Farming is a challenging and volatile industry. Its margins are tight and it is very dependent on the weather.
As an arable farmer, this last year has been one of the most testing I have known, with too much rain and flooding and then droughts. I have to say that 2020 will be a year to forget.
Farming is also challenged by the implications of Brexit. British farming has been supported by the Common Agricultural Policy since 1962 and this is changing. The Basic Payment Scheme will be replaced by the Environmental Land Management Scheme and here there are many unknowns.
Many countries in the world support their agriculture and the benefits of this are cheap food and high environmental standards; both good things. If we fail to support our agriculture the implications could be significant.
We farm to a high standard in this country and we should be proud of our environmental record. Yes, there are always improvements and our farmers welcome these, but we are not doing badly.
The same could be said for our woodlands.
Trees have an important role
Our trees, woods and forests are not only important to our landscape, they are also key to our environment, ecology, health and well-being, carbon sequestration and many other things.
Timber is a great renewable resource that locks up carbon. Planting trees is the most cost-effective way to sequestrate carbon and this is why the Government announced the £640m Nature for Climate Fund in March last year and why it has a target to plant 30,000 hectares a year across the United Kingdom by 2025.
Of course, we need the right trees in the right place for the right reasons and new woods must be well designed.
It is important that the new Environmental Land Management Scheme covers woodland. Too many of our woods are unmanaged and bringing these into management will have great environmental benefits. The scheme must look at the ‘whole holding’.
It is also important that we don’t allow ‘cheap’ imports from less sustainable sources in order to get trade deals. Our agricultural industry must not be the loser to get a better deal for other industries.
We must farm to a high standard and must encourage others to do so across the world. What we must not do is export our challenges overseas, enabling us to do things to the highest standards but creating problems for other nations just so we can feel good.
We are an important part of England. We have a larger population and higher GDP than Scotland and we need to be recognised. We have many leading industries across Yorkshire.
Leeds, Bradford, Hull and Sheffield are great cities and we have beautiful countryside where Yorkshire’s farmers and land managers play a really important part in making this region what it is.
The Yorkshire Agricultural Society will continue to champion our industry, provide encouragement and support, and we sincerely hope the public will embolden us in our endeavours by buying British and shopping local.