Although farming and commercial fishing only accounts for around 2% of the Manx economy, both are vital components for our food security. Farm subsidies are food subsidies, benefitting us all, not just farmers.
They also both play important roles in the social and cultural fabric of the Island. The rural landscape that we all love has been fashioned by our farmers over generations and centuries. A large part of what they do is to maintain and conserve it in a sustainable way for future generations. This has always meant adapting to changing circumstances.
Our farming and fishing industry is currently having to adapt to at least four factors:
- A, hopefully, short-term re-balancing post-Brexit, as new rules and trading relationships bed in.
- Changing dietary choices by consumers, both here and abroad mean that demand for meat, dairy, and, to a lesser extent, fish products is reducing, slowly but steadily.
- The long term impact of global warming / climate change means that measures to mitigate the effects may lead to demands for reductions in numbers of sheep and cattle being reared, worldwide.
- Constraints on fishing quotas are likely to continue into the future in order to conserve stocks.
Government has a role to assist in helping farmers and fishers to adjust; with grants and subsidies to adapt to these changes. Farmers who set aside their least productive land should be more highly re-warded than currently, with additional support for those who use this land to increase biodiversity, plant trees, conserve peat, etc. Boat owners should also be rewarded for adapting their vessels to take out tourists to discover the sea life in our coastal waters and explore our coastline. Eco-tourism is likely to be a niche, but growing market for visitors in the future.
We all value the magnificent environment that we are so privileged to enjoy as Island residents. Let us all continue to value those who help to keep it so. Our farmers and fishers; but also organisations such as Manx Basking Shark Watch, Manx Birdlife, Whale & Dolphin Watch, Manx Wildlife Trust, and of course our government’s Department of Environment Food & Agriculture.