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If Defra isn’t careful, tenant farmers could end up being excluded from future support

If farmers are only going to be paid for planting trees or creating peat bogs post-Brexit, there is a real risk tenants will be excluded from support, says Conservative peer Anne McIntosh.

All eyes are on the Defra Secretary, Michael Gove, as he works up policies to replace the current EU farm schemes.

 

In my view, farming at present is efficient, productive and competitive, but we are about to undergo a seismic change as great as that 45 years ago when we joined the Common Market.

 

Throughout this process, we need to consider policies affecting food and water, farming and the environment.

 

With the recent departure of the chief executive and chairman of Natural England, rumour is Tony Juniper is to be appointed the new chairman of this body, which will play a key role in the future of farming in the UK.

 

Michael Gove’s background is not one steeped in farming, having only seven farms in his constituency.

 

Attract

 

Also, Conservatives are trying to attract support from the young – particularly 18 to 30-year-olds. They care about the environment and climate change, so he is reaching out to them on the green agenda.

 

But this approach poses an inherent danger to the future of farming in the UK – especially to livestock production.

 

I am deeply concerned about the future of tenant farmers and especially graziers on common land.

 

Graziers have rights to graze their sheep on common land only in certain parts of the country (Cumbria, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Exmoor) and are often tenant farmers.

 

If in the future plans being worked up by Defra we are only rewarding farmers for growing trees or creating dams and peat bogs on their land, that will exclude hill farmers who are normally tenants and those who do not own the land on which they farm from support.

 

However, for the most part they are the active farmers of the land.

 

Challenge

 

Another challenge is that of livestock production, over 40 per cent of which is currently exported.

 

Were Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal, that market could disappear overnight, with the imposition of quotas and tariffs of up to 60 per cent depending on the product.

 

So the loss of spring lambs to France and beef and pig exports more generally could make hill farming across the UK unsustainable going forward.

 

We are also losing access to EU migrant workers who work on farms and in horticulture, and more land is being lost to building and development, so we are likely to be short of land on which to grow food in the next few years.

 

Welcome

 

We are waiting for the Agriculture Bill to reach us in the House of Lords, and I personally welcome the thrust of proposed amendments which seek to support the position of tenant farmers, recognising occupation of the land being used for farming activity and rejecting restrictions on tenancy agreements for new schemes.

 

People need to eat, and given the increasing interest in our environment, more attention will be paid to how we produce our food and reducing food miles.

 

All this makes for a potential rising share of domestic home produce.

 

Anne can be found tweeting at @AnneCMcIntosh


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