Food and Farming Minister Robert Goodwill told an audience of farmers at the Groundswell event that he wants to leave the EU in ‘an orderly way’.
By Chloe Palmer.
Food and Farming Minister Robert Goodwill told an audience of farmers at the Groundswell event that he wanted to leave the EU in ‘an orderly way’ but that Defra was the best prepared department if there was a no-deal Brexit.
He repeated his support for Jeremy Hunt’s leadership bid three times, saying he believed Mr Hunt would negotiate a better deal to avoid a Brexit which is ‘damaging to UK agriculture and business’.
Mr Goodwill said the work on the Agriculture Bill continued, and the Bill would provide the framework upon which the environmental elements of the new scheme would be built.
“Policy needs to be evidence based so we now have 47 trials for the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which are ready to sign off, with a further 200 applications which we hope to assess shortly,” he said.
In keeping with the theme of soil which is the focus for the Groundswell event, Mr Goodwill reiterated that he ‘would not envisage paying for soil health because it is a natural asset’ but rather any new scheme would pay for ‘the public goods which flow from it, such as clean water’.
Much of the detail around the new scheme will be refined during the trials and tests, Mr Goodwill said, but he suggested he was committed to some general principles to underpin the new scheme which will replace direct payments.
“The new scheme will work in a way that farmers can navigate easily but allows them to ramp up environmental delivery over time,” he said.
“We understand agriculture needs support and it is likely to be the more marginal farms especially those in the uplands which will benefit from this.”
Mr Goodwill also alluded to a new payment mechanism whereby farmers were paid in smaller, more regular installments rather than a lump sum.
He said: “Perhaps these payments will be paid on a monthly basis because many of the schemes will involve maintenance throughout the year so monthly payments would be more appropriate but also help farmers manage their cash flow.”
Much of the detail regarding the new scheme was still to be decided, according to Mr Goodwill.
He added: “To what extent do we compensate farmers for the existing provision of habitats compared to paying them to carry out new planting of trees?
“The outcome from the trials and tests will provide the evidence as to how we do this.
“We need to be wary of unintended consequences of any incentives.
“For example, payments which encourage farmers to incorporate straw to increase soil organic matter could impact significantly on livestock farmers because it would reduce the availability of straw and we must avoid this.”