Bringing it home

Welcoming a stronger agricultural drainage lobbying group for post-Brexit times.
Rob Burtonshaw
May 02, 2019
By Rob Burtonshaw
We all have our vices and I’m no different, although perhaps I’m slightly duller than most: one of my vices has always been history. You may not consider an eagerness to learn about the past to be a problem, and I would argue is it not, however my wife and children are beginning to view it as one. We have a lot of history here in the U.K., and plenty of historic places to visit (which my family tolerates as I force-feed them yet another free lecture about why this place is important).

It is not just my home life that is influenced by this but work too. The history of land drainage is long and often relevant to us as contractors because hardly a week will go by without us connecting to or repairing an existing drain. It is rare for us to drain a field that our forefathers have not already tried to do drain, often many decades, if not centuries, before.

Millions of miles of pipe have been installed on our small island through the years. I like the idea that I’m part of a tried-and-tested process that has been part of the fabric of agriculture for many years. Despite great advances in how pipe is put in the ground, the core theory and principles of the industry remain unchanged. The drainage industry has been through many ups and downs, some brought about due to government policy, others by world markets, but it has always survived and often thrived. Ultimately, humans have always needed food and making food production more efficient has proven to be a robust business to be in.  

This is certainly a comfort in this hectic and confused time in Westminster. I doubt anyone reading this will be keen to hear my views on the current state of politics in the U.K., and to be frank, like most others I speak to, I’m bored, tired and frustrated with the endless Brexit saga. Whatever happens, change will occur in British agriculture.

With that change comes opportunity and risk, so the re-formation of the drainage section of the National Association of Agriculture Contractors (NAAC) is very welcome. Many moons ago (and for reasons I don’t know), the drainage section of the NAAC broke away and formed its own association: the Land Drainage Contractors Association (LDCA). Now, the LDCA has re-joined the NAAC and drainage contractors are united with other agricultural contractors in one large group. I’m pleased this has happened because of the additional strength in numbers this gives the industry. Furthermore, for a while it seemed that drainage contractors would not have a trade body with the demise of the LDCA, so this change is quite welcome.

In truth, land drainage is a small part of the U.K. agricultural industry, which is a small part of the overall U.K. economy. When you are small and alone it is difficult to get your voice heard, but together we have a greater chance. Of course, change won’t happen overnight. I’m not saying that suddenly those who have ignored or been unaware of our industry will be persuaded to pass legislation to encourage drainage, but we now have a collective voice that allows us to put forward an argument.

For many years there has been little reason to be concerned with lobbying politicians or influencing public opinion. Agricultural policy was under the remit of the European Union and the common agricultural policy was far away in Brussels and very hard influence. Now agricultural policy will be made here in Westminster, and it will become an issue for British politicians who will undoubtedly wish to alter it and exercise their power. If recent speeches by those currently in post are a guide, this means a greater focus on the environment and a reduction in subsidies that are not directly tied to improvements in measurable environment outcomes. Leaving aside the details and jargon, we may not be able to influence anything right away, but at least we have a way of trying.

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