Royal Agricultural University responds to RSA Commission’s ‘Our Future in the Land’ report

16 Jul 2019

An independent report by the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, chaired by Barclays UK Chair, Sir Ian Cheshire and published today sets out ‘a blueprint for the UK’s food, farming and countryside system as the UK is set to leave the European Union’.

Commenting on the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission report, entitled ‘Our Future in the Land’, Professor Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Agricultural University said:

“We welcome the Commission’s report, which paints an honest picture of the challenges facing farming, food production and stewardship of the countryside, and sets out some bold ideas to address them. The issues articulated in the report are immediate and urgent and as such they are central to our work at the RAU as we equip the new generation whose careers will be focussed on dealing with them.

“Such challenges are not new to the RAU as it was founded (as the Royal Agricultural College) 175 years ago to address the challenge facing UK agriculture at the time of the first industrial revolution. It remains the University’s primary responsibility to contribute to the thought leadership needed to navigate such periods of major disruption and opportunity. Our main purpose is to provide a focus for challenging the assumptions inherent in the status quo, provide innovative solutions to the complex problems that need to be solved and educate generations of students to engage with them.

“The report is refreshing, because as well as being frank about the scale of the problems we face it is a strong vote of confidence in farmers, land managers, and all of us in our communities, to solve them. The University strongly agrees with the Commissioners that farming can be a force for positive change and that rural communities can thrive as a powerhouse for a green economy.

“This means tackling stereotypes, being open-minded about potential solutions and contemplating major changes in the balance of power within our food and farming system. The Commissioners recommend a shift in research towards backing innovation by farmers. This is also central to the University’s approach and something it supports directly through the Farmer-Led Innovation Network.

“The Commissioners also propose that Universities help train more farmers to provide quality advice to their peers.  In a sector that can get very caught up in thinking about what skills the industry needs, it is refreshing that the Commission has put people at the heart of the agenda; not only has it asked existing farmers about the role they think they ought (would enjoy) to play, it has also asked what young people want to do in their careers, highlighting latent opportunities for farming and other rural employers. 

“The report is timely, as it can inform Henry Dimbleby’s process to develop a National Food Strategy, as well as shape wider planning beyond Brexit. Crucially, the Commissioners empathise with the fact that people’s lives and livelihoods are steeped in food, farming and the countryside, while showing that for solutions to be satisfactory they must work for the whole population.

“Their report doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but it does offer some bold proposals, and moves the conversation forward in recognising the importance and urgency of asking the relevant questions.”

The Commission’s Research Director was Prof Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the RAU. He has advised the Commission since it started, and led its research projects on issues such as the future of rural work and farming for health.