WITH BREXIT stalled until a new government is in place after the election, party manifestos are the only signposts to the future for UK agriculture. There is no guarantee that promises in these documents will be delivered – but whether they are or not, those from the two parties likely to form the next government at Westminster are far from encouraging.

The Labour manifesto reflects the radical nature of its wider manifesto. It wants to socialise the countryside with more state owned farms, more control of agricultural wages and tighter animal welfare standards. On Brexit it is promising a fresh negotiation with the EU after a second referendum, and to its credit more investment to improve flood control. This is not a party that attracts many votes from the farming community and that is reflected in a manifesto more about theory and aspiration than practical plans for agriculture.

As the party promising to 'get Brexit done', the Conservatives might have been expected to show more of a commitment on farming. Key members of the present government were the Leave advocates who in 2016 persuaded many farmers to vote for their cause by promising a better, less bureaucratic future than the CAP.

The promise then was of a policy to drive a profitable, progressive industry that would embrace technology and be globally competitive. The manifesto was an opportunity to deliver on those promises, but that appears to be a lost opportunity. The central thrust of the Conservative plan is that support will move from being about food production to a reward for the delivery of public good – a term coined by economists to describe benefits for society. That is a laudable concept, but it depends on how public good is defined. If that is about food security and quality and having a farming industry as the foundation of a thriving food industry that is a good concept, with the added bonus that it delivers for the environment. That in essence is how the EU has always defended the CAP and what it describes as its European farming model.

Politicians here, however, seem to define 'public good' delivery as entirely environmental. They believe this green approach is what voters want so this is what they will promise to deliver. By definition that suggests they are discounting the value of food security, which is why farming support was introduced in both the UK and the original post-war EEC.

Add into this the suggestion that animal transport will be banned or severely restricted and the Conservative manifesto is a blatant attempt to cash in on the current interest – or should that be media obsession – with environmental issues. This obsession was clear this week with a television programme attacking the beef industry, which failed to differentiate between global and national production standards. Ignoring that side of the food production equation is the direction of both the Conservative and Labour manifestos.

If Brexit is to be seen to work, it has to deliver a better outcome than the current situation. Clearly all in the EU garden of agriculture is not rosy, with mass protests by farmers in Ireland, France and the Netherlands. The greening of agriculture will drive policy, regardless of which of the two major parties forms the next government. This is not what farmers thought was on offer in 2016.

Brexit will have failed if we look at what is happening in the CAP and envy farmers in the EU-27 still part of that policy. Many European politicians would love to have a policy as green and environmentally focussed as the post-Brexit plan for UK farming. They however know that they would never get away with such a policy in the face of a farming lobby that still carries a lot of clout both at an EU level and in many member states.

For that reason, green goals will remain a bolt-on to the CAP – a fig leaf to meet the commitment that 20% of EU spending must go to climate change alleviation. With a much greener policy the UK is heading down a different, arguably more progressive road so far as voters are concerned. This is not what farmers were promised in 2016; it is not what those who voted leave signed up for. But it is what they will be getting and the election or a new government will not change that reality.