Faced with the greatest threat to public health this country has faced in our lifetimes, the Government has taken a series of unprecedented steps to protect the NHS and save many thousands of lives, says Defra Secretary George Eustice.
The response during the coronavirus pandemic has been truly phenomenal, and I want to thank a whole army of food heroes who have worked tirelessly to keep the nation fed.
Our food supply chain has remained resilient, and the pandemic has highlighted the essential role of domestic food production in our nation’s food security.
We have all had to adjust our daily lives, and today MPs will vote remotely on legislation for the first time in history as the Agriculture Bill returns to Parliament.
I grew up on a farm and my family have farmed in West Cornwall for six generations.
I understand the enormous responsibility and commitment a farmer feels to the hard work and toil of previous generations. I understand the burden of expectation that can exist to loyally continue the family tradition and how this can sometimes stand in the way of change.
However, I also know that sometimes a fresh perspective can make a world of difference. New entrants are the life blood of any vibrant industry and we must not forget this as we embark on the biggest change in agricultural policy in half a century.
Now that we have left the EU we have the opportunity to design a policy that is not only right for the farmers of today but which is also right for the farmers of tomorrow.
As we are designing a policy for the farmers of tomorrow as well as today, there can be no reprieve for arbitrary area based subsidy payments.
Direct Payments subsidise land ownership and tenure and that is irrational. They artificially inflate land rents and stand in the way of new entrants. And they encourage some farmers to coast, take no risks and simply remain in occupation of land in order to collect the subsidy.
Area payments are useless as a risk management tool because the greatest risks are taken by intensive horticultural enterprises like top fruit for whom the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payment is an irrelevance. Nor do I believe area payments really support the incomes of our most vulnerable sectors.
Environmental Land Management (ELM)
By the end of 2024 we will roll out our new policy open to all types of farmers and land managers. We envisage three components to Environmental Land Management (ELM).
Firstly, there will be a sustainable farming tier, which will be open to farmers across the country and will incentivise participation in farm level measures such as integrated pest management, sensitive hedgerow management and soil health.
Secondly, there will be a local environmental tier which could incentivise interventions including the creation of habitats, improving biodiversity, tree planting, and natural flood management.
Finally, there will be a landscape scale tier, which could support woodland creation, peat land restoration and other potential land use changes.
This is a challenging time for the whole country and we know that our farmers need stability, certainty, and a smooth shift towards our new system of public money for public goods. Next year, we will begin reducing Direct Payments, but in a progressive way, so that the largest reductions will be applied to the largest payment amounts.
This Government stood on a manifesto commitment to guarantee the current annual budget to farmers in every year of the new Parliament, and we have planned a seven-year agricultural transition – giving farmers time to adapt and enabling them to take advantage of the new opportunities that this Bill provides.
I am determined that there will be a prosperous future for British agriculture so we will also introduce new powers to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain so that farmers get a fair share of the cake.
We will introduce grants to help farmers add value to their produce and reduce costs so they can become more prosperous and improve their productivity. There will also be a legal obligation on the Government to produce an assessment of our food security at least once every five years, which is now more important than ever.
In the UK, we have built a very special market based on provenance with particular attention to food safety and high animal welfare standards and we have been clear in our manifesto that we will not jeopardise that through trade deals in the future.
This Bill will bring the biggest change in agricultural policy in half a century.
We have shown the world new ways to farm before and we have some of the very best farmers. This is our chance to innovate and set the pace once again, so that a decade from now the rest of the world will to be coming here to the UK to see how sustainable food production is done.