More Words – but what do they mean, again?

by Alan Davies, FUW managing director

I’ve written a few times in recent months about Words. Words that have become commonly acceptable, words that are being increasingly used and words that just take on a new meaning all of their own. And this month it’s words once again, but this time words that we are not too sure about what they mean.

I’ll take as my reference the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement to the National Assembly on May 8, where she outlined her vision for agriculture in Wales announcing five key priorities:
• “we must keep land managers on the land;

• food production remains vital for our nation;
• future support will centre on the provision of public goods that deliver for all the people of Wales;
• all land managers should have the opportunity to benefit from new schemes; and
• we need a prosperous and resilient agricultural sector in Wales, whatever nature of Brexit.”

There’s a lot to unpick and digest here but I’m going to start looking at the final point in more detail, in particular: what is meant by “prosperous” and what is meant by “resilient”. Both are key terms and if we are not clear what they mean it will be impossible to move towards them.

At a recent meeting with Welsh Government officials I, along with other industry representatives, was asked to define what these words meant. Whilst it’s always nice to be involved, I felt at this point that we should really be asking the author of the words what she meant. What did the Cabinet Secretary really mean in using the phrase “prosperous and resilient”.

I know they sound good, noble objectives. But for who will they provide prosperity? Is there an aspiration for prosperous farms, everywhere. Or is it just a desire to have a prosperous sector – whatever a sector is we may need to debate some other time? Would greater success at the “top end” balance loss at the “bottom”? And does this prosperity affect farmers, farms, farm businesses, our rural communities or all those in the supply chain. The answer is – we don’t yet know.

And when we measure prosperity should we look at just the farm, or is it the family unit where some members may be working off farm in order to add to the coffers. And can we measure financial inputs from diversification projects like wind turbines and if we can, would bed and breakfast also be included. After all, what on earth has B+B got to do with farming?

Would the sale of something like a book based on the lives of farm animals count as “farm income” adding to prosperity? We don’t know. And that doesn’t help anyone to plan for the future.

A dictionary definition of “Resilient” says that it is “the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions”. So in some sense it is a reactive measure. It’s how you get over something. But wouldn’t it be better if we were focusing on how to avoid the

need to bounce back? Wouldn’t it be wiser to be proactive in our approach, trying instead to avoid problems through sensible national policies that reduce the risk of challenges that we need to bounce back from? And with these policies being managed and supported in a way that provided resilience from central coffers should plans go wrong for reasons outside our normal control.

As always it’s good to get some messages from Government about what they see for the future, but as always the devil is in the detail. We all use the same words, but often use them differently. We sometimes use them seriously and sometimes casually, but at a time like this when we are planning the future of agriculture outside the eU we definitely need to be more precise with the words we use. Only through clarity can we move forward.

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