The Government must introduce a 25-year agriculture funding plan to ensure farmers are still around to deliver its environmentally-friendly schemes, says Tim Farron, agriculture spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
The Government’s Agriculture Bill aims to do a lot of good. The commitment to having public money for public goods is commendable and to be encouraged.
But their dangerous plans to remove direct payments to farmers means they have forgotten about the most important public good a farmer can produce – food.
We think too little about food security. Some 45 per cent of the food we consume today is imported, whereas 20 years ago that figure was more like 35 per cent.
That is a very worrying trend. And if UK farmers’ ability to compete is further undermined, it will only get worse.
The simple and inescapable fact is if we go ahead and remove direct payments for farmers without an immediate equivalent, and if tariffs are introduced on imports into this country, we will see a significant rise in the price of food on the shelves.
The wealthiest people in this country spend 10 per cent of their income on food, but the poorest spend 25 per cent.
Removing direct investment in farming will hit every family on a low or medium income in catastrophic and heart-breaking ways.
It is shameful that we collectively preside over a society in which food bank usage is at its highest level ever.
If we get this wrong, the result will be greater poverty, greater need and greater misery for families who seek to budget for their weekly food shop.
That is why I fully support the NFU’s call for the Government to support domestic agriculture to secure food security and stability of food supply. I can think of no greater public good.
Food security does not need to come at the expense of caring for our land: there is no point in having food security for the next 20 years if the land is unusable after that.
Biodiversity and the sustainable management of land must be central to the new systems that are devised.
Alongside the lack of clarity over the transition period, there is an absence of funding guarantees beyond 2022. That is simply not good enough.
Anyone who thinks three years constitutes the long-term knows absolutely nothing about farming.
The NFU and environmental groups alike want a long-term funding solution so this issue cannot be used as a political football down the road, and they are right.
If the money is not there, we may end up with a fantastic environmentally-friendly farming system, but no farmers left to deliver it.
That is why the Liberal Democrats advocate a 25-year funding plan, to fit alongside the Government’s existing 25-year environmental plan, to maintain agriculture spending beyond 2022 to at least the current level.
If we want a rich, diverse, beautiful and bountiful ecology, we need farmers to steward it and deliver it.
If we want a better environment, then we need farmers.
Tim can be found tweeting @timfarron