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George Eustice: Defra's consultation did not ignore food production

After a difficult winter and a very late spring, I know farmers have been running to catch up in recent weeks.

Arable farmers have been working around the clock drilling crops. Livestock farmers have been working to finally turn their cattle out to grass, which will come as a relief to those who struggled with shortages of fodder at the end of winter.

 

On top of all of this, the deadline for submitting applications for this year’s Basic Payment Scheme passed in the middle of May with the customary good timing required under EU law.

 

With all of these pressures on time, it is therefore impressive so many individual farmers found the time to make their own submission to our recent consultation on the future of agriculture policy in the UK.

 

In total, more than 44,000 responses were received in just 10 weeks.


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When you have an opportunity for great change, it is always important to receive lots of individual perspectives, because it is often where the most innovative ideas are to be found.

 

A number of farmers have told me in recent weeks they thought the paper focused too much on the environment and not enough on food production.

 

I was concerned I might have missed something about the document I had signed off earlier this year, so I have read it again.

 

There is a chapter on a ‘successful future for farming’ and another on risk management and resilience. There is one on fairness in the supply chain, one on regulation and another on protecting remote farming.

 

Then there are subsections on research and development, labour availability and on maintaining standards in future trade deals. So, I do not agree the consultation did not address farming and food production.

However, we also need to recognise the current Common Agricultural Policy is not about food production. In fact, the current area-based payment regime is explicitly not about food production.

 

Instead, it is an upside-down system of subsidies which pays based on how much land someone owns or controls, regardless of what they do with it.

 

It is a system which encourages people to occupy land, but take few risks with it. It blocks access to land by new entrants and it enables hobby farmers who make their money in other ways to collect a payment just for the fact they own land.

 

With hindsight, the system for decoupling of farm payments 15 years ago was a mistake which created the bureaucratic quagmire we have today.

 

However, from where we are, moving over time to a system of payment for the delivery of public goods, such as high animal welfare standards, improved soil husbandry and more sustainable farming, must make more sense.

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