I was delighted to attend the Rutland County Show last Sunday alongside thousands of others in the glorious sunshine. It is always a fantastic event which illustrates the very best of Rutland’s farming, countryside and rural life.
At the show, I met with Simon Fisher of the National Farmers Union who was keen to discuss the NFU’s position on the future of our agricultural policy. Leaving the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) gives us the opportunity for fundamental reform, allowing us to build a more dynamic, more self-reliant agriculture industry that works for our country. Given we are a very rural county here in Rutland, I recognise how important it is that we get this right.
In February, the Government published its proposals for such reform as we prepare for life outside the EU. It is intended that we will phase out ‘Direct Payments’ which subsidise farmers based on how much land they own, and replace them with payments to support specific objectives that support our natural landscape, such as sustainable land management, the creation of habitats and enhanced animal welfare.
We will maintain the same cash total funding for the sector until the end of this parliament, and also commit to continuing Direct Payments during the ‘agricultural transition’ – the period of time after we leave the CAP that will allow farmers to properly adapt to new systems.
The plans also set out how the Government will help famers become more profitable within a more competitive market, and support the next generation of farmers working across the industry.
A consultation on these proposals ran from 27th February to 8th May this year, and resulted in a massive 44,000 responses. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs will now study these responses in detail, and it is intended that the Agriculture Bill will be presented to Parliament later this year.
I am glad to hear that the NFU, as well as many other organisations which responded to the consultation, regard such reform as a unique opportunity to put in place a system which will deliver a sustainable and profitable farming and horticultural sector. I agree with their view that any future policy must be fair and equitable to all farm businesses irrespective of their size, and that we must give the agricultural sector sufficient time and certainty to enable them to plan ahead and manage any change properly.
The NFU also highlighted that they believe the Government needs to properly recognise the benefits provided by domestic food production, and that the new policy must support farmers in this role. By retaining this important element, the NFU believe it will give us: a sufficient degree of self-sufficiency; a safe and traceable supply of domestic food; support for jobs, investment and growth, and high standards of animal welfare.
I am due to meet with the Rutland NFU on Friday of this week to discuss their views in more detail and will do whatever I can to ensure any concerns they have are properly listened to. There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that change is managed properly to minimise any disruption to food supply and to our country’s farming and agricultural businesses.