Clemmie Gleeson reports from the Norfolk Farming Conference.
Farming Minister George Eustice has given further hints on plans for subsidies post-Brexit, including promises to remove the ‘chaos’ of annual deadlines and onerous forms.
Speaking at the Norfolk Farming Conference in Norwich, Mr Eustice said a decision had not yet been made on the level of the proposed cap on subsidies, but said that with a £25,000 cap, about 75 per cent of farmers would not be affected.
He also pledged to make it possible to join agricultural schemes at several points throughout the year.
Once farmers were accepted onto a scheme they should not have to submit ‘a gigantic form each and every year’.
Instead, there would be a ‘light touch’ approach, where farmers simply confirm continuation or notify Defra of intended changes. Monthly or quarterly payments were also being considered, he said.
The Minister was keen to encourage collaboration and greater supply chain integration. The Government would support those efforts which would enable players to come together and benefit from attention to detail but also economies of scale, he said.
“If Government can help, we stand ready to help,” he added. “If we can offer grant support, we will.”
PRINCE Charles has urged policymakers to incentivise mixed farming systems in an effort to reverse agriculture’s ‘devastating effect on the rural environment’.
Speaking to the conference via a video link, the Prince of Wales said intensive farming had been brought about by ‘perverse incentives’ and had led to the destruction of natural capital, soil fertility and habitats including wetlands and wildflower meadows.
“One cannot blame the farmers for their part in this process since they have been merely been responding to the incentives provided to them,” he said. “But at long last it now appears that agricultural policymakers are waking up to the impending ecological crisis.”
New incentives could enable farmers to return to mixed farming practices ‘involving a crop rotation with fertility building phase and grazing ruminants, working in balance with arable crops’.
“I have a feeling more and more people would be in favour of the introduction of incentives to make such a change possible alongside greater encouragement for more local production and consumption patterns based on knowing the story behind one’s food,” he said. “Despite all the challenges, such a move could provide much needed long-term benefits for the planet, for public health and for local communities.”
Such a change ‘would constitute the greatest farming evolution in more than a century’, he said.
However, with the British farming industry’s capacity for marketing and innovation he said he felt sure the industry could rise to the challenge.
FAST food giant McDonald’s plans to triple the amount of British chicken it sells by 2020.
Supply chain director for the UK and Ireland Connor McVeigh told delegates at the Norfolk Farming Conference that by 2020 the firm would be using 10 times the amount of chicken than in 2013.
The company was going to grow and develop chicken on its menu in response to customer demands, he said. Customers wanted assurances on food safety and animal welfare too.
Working in long-term partnerships was ‘non negotiable’ he said and enabled producers to be ‘utterly focussed on delivering solutions’ to the company’s 3.7 million customers per day.
“Increasing our commitment to British farmers is simply the right thing to be doing,” he said.