Farmers were left hungry for more detail on the future of agricultural policy after Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s speech to NFU conference, though he did share a few more thoughts on the Government’s plans.
This included a ‘long overdue’ review of the farming inspection regime.
Mr Gove told the audience he had ordered the review because the inspection regime remained ‘unwieldy’, despite several recent attempts at simplification.
One such attempt took place in 2011, when Government ordered the Farming Regulation Taskforce, chaired by Richard Macdonald, to find ways to cut red tape for farmers.
The taskforce recommended developing the principle of ‘earned recognition’, where farmers with a strong track record of reliability could have their inspections reduced, but Mr Gove felt this had not gone far enough.
He said: “I am delighted to announce Dame Glenys Stacey will be conducting a thorough and comprehensive review of this regime, seeing how these inspections can be removed, reduced or improved to reduce the burden on farmers while maintaining and enhancing our animal and plant health standards.
“This review is not only long overdue, but also timely as we design future farming policy and maximise the opportunities of leaving the EU.”
Mr Gove also suggested cash currently given to the EU, over and above what is spent on farm payments, could be used to provide broadband and 4G coverage in rural areas.
He said: “We are planning to spend north of £60 billion on HS2, 30 times as much as it would cost to provide superfast broadband.
“Surely investment in broadband is a vital, urgent part of improving our critical national infrastructure?
“Universal broadband and 4G coverage for all, which could be paid for by the money we no longer have to give to the EU. That is what we mean by taking back control.”
The theme of public money for public goods was returned to again, with Mr Gove reiterating his belief environmental protection was the most important public good of all.
But he also outlined some other things farmers can be expected to be paid for in future, such as preserving rural culture, providing greater public access to the countryside and high animal welfare.
“Cumbria and Northumberland, the Yorkshire Dales and Pennine Lancashire would not be as they are, both as breathtakingly beautiful and as resilient, without upland farmers,” he said.
“Men and women are hefted in those hills just as much as the sheep they care for. And preserving profitable farm businesses in those communities is just as much a public good as investment in anything I know.”
Robert Boyd Howell - arable farmer, Kent
“Everything seems to be tomorrow. There was no firm policy statements made. Apparently we are going to hear something next week but everything else is to follow.
“It would actually be nice to have an idea. For instance, if they are going to have a cap on farm support, what level is it going to be at and does it start in 2019, 2020 or later? We need to be able to plan our businesses.”
TJ Stennings - Young Farmer, Cheshire
“You can really tell the NFU is on our side. But Mr Gove, a plastic politician, stood up and just delivered us a sales speech on what the room wanted to hear.
“We thought we were going to get more in terms of figures and funding, but it never came.”
Caroline Hulland - RT Lee & Son, Bridgnorth
“I think [Labour MP] David Drew made him [Gove] look wonderful.
“It was positive. I think we would all have liked to hear more positive factual information, but generally I feel more positive coming out of that session.”