The NFU has put together 10 pointers which it will lobby Defra on to ensure it provides an effective framework for productive and sustainable farming businesses within the Agriculture Bill.
NFU director of policy Andrew Clark said the union wanted a new clause in the Bill to provide clear measures on food security and objectives on how it will achieve food security, secure safe supply of food and market stability.
Other points included the implementation of flexible measures to deal with competitiveness and financial resilience, valuing and protecting the UK’s food standards and maintaining a level playing field with a common approach across the devolved.
Mr Clark said: “It is about embedding very firmly that food and farming should be the strategic priority and interest of any Government.”
Mr Clark set out the points at NFU Council this week:
1 – An ‘agricultural’ Agriculture Bill
“At the present moment we feel there is not an explicit and overarching agricultural objective to the bill. That is in sharp contrast to other agricultural acts – all of which define very clearly which type of agricultural businesses should be benefitted from the measures and powers that ministers are granted.
“It is critical we need to see a new framework set out which says not just which is being done but also who can receive that support. It is important the Bill sets out both what and who it will benefit.”
2 – Promoting the nation’s strategic priorities
“Here we want to see a new clause in the very outset of the bill. At the present moment it skips right to the measures that ministers can have but there is no clear and ambiguous commitment to food security or to making food, which Mr Gove said repeatedly when challenged that he recognises food needs to be a large part.
“There is no explicit rationale on the face of the Bill of what the Agriculture Bill is. What we will be arguing for here is inclusion in clause one of the Ag Bill a purpose of the measures that are provided to ministers to act.
“Objectives have got to be set out on achieving food security, getting a secure and safe supply of food and market stability. It is not enough to have individual measures.
“And embedding very firmly that food and farming should be the strategic priority and interest of any government. Not just this one but future governments as well.”
3 – Competitiveness and financial resilience
“Clearly when we look at the road this Bill is taking farming down it is going to have big impacts on competitiveness and financial resilience of agriculture. We have learnt this year about the volatility farmers’ face year-in year-out.
“It is vital that the Bill recognises that it has the flexibility and measures in place to respond to that. There are some good things in that in terms of financial assistance and emergency market conditions, but it is not clear how those measures are going to be used.
“That is going to be our focus in the weeks ahead to try and clarify what Defra and ministers are going to be doing.
“For example in the terms of the BPS there is a provision for a seven-year transition but it is only one-directional. There is very little on pausing and reflecting on the impact of trade deals and changing labour supply arrangements, and there is certainly no opportunity for referral.
“Instead of this one-directional approach we want the opportunity to reverse that and vary direction of travel. We want more flexibility.”
4 – Valuing and protecting our standards
“We have all said of the importance of valuing and protecting our standards. The Bill is very silent especially about imports but more importantly actually it only contains measures for increasing levels of standards in UK producers.
“It is a bit like a one-club golfer. It is really simply looking and making farming in the UK higher standard and less competitive, rather than recognising that what we a level playing field that allows UK farmers to compete on their own terms.
“It should also reflect the fact the country deserves to match food standards that we currently produce at home. For us it is a red line.”
5 – Budgetary cycles
“The Bill is going to be applied across decades rather than one government. All of us recognise that farming is a long-term business.
“Something we would like to see introduced into the act is recognition that we should have a multi-annual budget.
“One good thing about the CAP was the fact it was a multi-annual budget over seven years recognising it goes on beyond one commissioner or one sector of European parliament. The exact same situation should apply here in the UK.
“They are making multi-angle investments in the terms of agri-environment schemes and it seems to make sense that similarly the Agriculture Bill should set a multi-annual long-term budget commitment. It is our opportunity to adapt the Bill and get that commitment from this government to future governments for the long-term.”
6 – Strengthening farmers position in the supply chain
“The good thing in this Bill is recognising the importance of strengthening farmers position in the food chain.
“There are good clauses around data collection, producer organisations and fair dealing on the first person – there is actually more than we expected to see.
“However in each one we want to see further detail as to what the ministers thinking is.
“There is concern on data collection on the breadth of that. It is actually extraordinary in the pairing of the Bill, that data collection is extremely detailed.
“There is a case here of proving why those powers are necessary for the purpose of getting fairer returns and fairer details is necessary.”
7 – UK frameworks: Maintaining a level playing field
“Agriculture policy is a devolved matter and we fully recognise that. But that does not mean that you cannot have a stable and mature UK approach.
“We cannot have a situation where we leave the CAP then end up with four different policies in the UK. We are really focusing here on maintain a level playing field and making sure there is an agreed common framework that is not imposed from Westminster that is actually agreed by all governments across the UK in a mature way.”
8 – Appropriate use of ministerial powers
“There are numerous provisions in the Ag Bill where ministers are granted powers to make regulation. That regulation is the critical impact in terms of farm businesses. That is the reason you fill out paperwork.
“It is absolutely vital as part of the parliamentary process that we understand where those powers for ministers to act are under secondary legislation with statutory instruments are granted to them.
“We want to make sure minsters are accountable for the actions they take.”
9 – Reducing the administrative burden on farming
“It is something we need to look at very carefully and question. Again I highlight the example of data collection where there are many powers likely to increase burden on farms rather than decrease it.
“So we do need to keep a close eye on that. We were always promised that in terms of taking back control, we were going to take back control and simplify it. Does this Bill actually deliver that?”
10 – Wider government policy
“We will be pushing across a range of different areas including the central importance of food production and food security to ensure there is clarity about what it the governments long-term policy is going to be.”