Middlemarch heard from James Townshend, CEO of Velcourt Group, one of the UK’s biggest farm management companies. On behalf of both farming and landowning clients, Velcourt farms 53,000 hectares of arable land and manages around 7,000 dairy cows in the UK. The company also operates abroad, providing business and technical management skills in Germany, Portugal, throughout Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Africa and Australia.
A Remainer, “not because I like Europe, but because we do so much business with them”, Mr Townshend believes Brexit presents “absolutely huge” challenges to the UK food & farming sector. “The EU has the highest food quality and standards in the world. At this moment, the US and the rest of the world are salivating at the prospect of entering the UK market with food produced to lower standards. We must be ready for that, especially as home food production is declining, but I see no political vision, no leadership and no goals for the sector or a new post-EU food system in this country. ”
There are several things the UK should do to get the food and farming industries ready for life post-Brexit. “Firstly, we have to consolidate further to ensure UK farming is as competitive a global player as can be. At home as well; our farms should be the supplier of choice for the UK food industry. We need to invest in skills, in Research & Development, in state-of-the-art technology. That is how we have done it at Velcourt, and it is what works. Capital grants have to be made available for substantial infrastructure improvements. I agree that us leaving the EU provides us with new opportunities, but we have to ensure that we are in a position to grasp them.”