Sector response to lockdown

Sector and community must have say in turning Agriculture Bill into plan for fairer, greener food and farming system shows new survey.

10th June 2020

Government needs a new plan for implementing the Agriculture Bill and mustn’t go it alone, says new research from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission. Over 380 professionals working the in food, farming and countryside took part in Learning from Lockdown, the first major survey of the sector since the pandemic. Respondents overwhelmingly want more investment in short, local food supply chains, more diverse UK food production and for government to work with citizens for a fair and green recovery.

Key findings from the research include:

  • 80% of respondents want most things to be different after the pandemic; no-one wanted to go back to how things were
  • People feel optimistic that change is possible, but for this to happen, people and institutions need to work together
  • 70% say that the changes they want are possible by working together
  • Over 70% want to see better relationships between government and civil society
  • Nearl70% want to see more resources devolved to local governments and communities

“The bills now going through parliament will give us framework legislation written before the pandemic” said Sue Pritchard, FFCC’s Chief Executive. “Now, the sector is looking for fresh thinking, and practical plans, informed by learning in lockdown. People tell us they want sustainable, diverse and resilient food and farming, but this needs proper planning, and the right support for everyone through the transition. Despite all the uncertainty, there is a real appetite to work with government to develop a realistic routemap, which isn’t rushed through.”

FFCC’s survey shows a widespread desire for more collaboration and diversity as crucial to sustainable economic recovery. Investing directly in communities and local businesses is a core theme throughout. 90% support shorter, local food supply chains, more diverse food UK production and better rural services, including broadband and connectivity. 85% want better pay and conditions for land-based work. 70% want more power and resources devolved to local governments and communities.

“Lockdown has shown that the UK’s food system has the capacity for rapid and transformative change” said FFCC Chair, Sir Ian Cheshire. “Our survey captures this major shift and a huge energy to do things differently. People made strong connections between food and nature, the importance of local diversity and resilience, and the need for collective leadership. It emphasises the importance of a prosperous countryside and the role which small and medium-sized businesses like the family farm can play in a green recovery.”

Other findings include:

  • Over 90% of respondents want to see greater investment in shorter and local supply chains
  • Nearly 90% in more diverse sources of UK food production
  • 80% want to see more investment in research and innovation
  • 90% want to see more investment in rural services – especially rural broadband and connectivity
  • 85% want to see better pay and conditions for land-based work
  • And over 70% want better access to the countryside for all

Prof Tom MacMillan from the Royal Agricultural University, who led the study as FFCC’s Research Director, said: “Many of the people we heard from are fired up by what they’ve achieved together and what has proved possible, whether they work in supermarkets or farms, government or community groups. Most are hungry for more change, not less, as we recover from the pandemic, and are confident they can make a difference.”

FFCC ran the Learning from Lockdown survey in May and 388 professionals responded. They included senior staff from large food businesses, farmers, estate owners, farming industry bodies, civil servants in Westminster, local and the devolved governments, government delivery bodies, campaign groups, community groups, and researchers specialising in food, agriculture and rural issues.

An interactive slide pack is available here.