Industry groups have reacted with disappointment to Defra’s long-awaited consultation on the future of farming policy.
The paper contains a number of proposals to be consulted on before the Agriculture Bill is published later in the year, with May 8 2019 the deadline for responses.
Though the consultation has only just been published, farming groups were given sight of it yesterday at 2pm.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “We can make our industry more productive and more profitable and we can deliver world leading standards in animal welfare and environmental protection.
“But to do this we need certainty and time to plan. That is what we were promised and instead we have open questions, few decisions and no answers.
“In just over a year from now, we will be leaving the EU. Love it or hate it, the EU has shaped the way we farm, provided most of our customers and been a source of vital income for thousands of businesses.
“In a few months, the Government will bring forward legislation which will set the direction for the next generation of farming and land management.
“It has promised a bold vision for a profitable industry which can deliver environmental management, one we consistently have supported.
“But it is the details, not the words, that will define farming's future and they are still seriously lacking.”
Vicki Hird, farm campaign coordinator at food and farming alliance Sustain, expressed concerns about how the lack of concrete detail would affect public engagement with the consultation.
She said: “The proposals vary in level of detail, and whilst it is crucial to get the public – as wide as possible – to respond to the online consultation, they may struggle to say what their priorities are without more information.”
Ms Hird also questioned whether the Government could deliver on its priorities without setting out any future budgets, and was uneasy about the failure to set out any public health policies.
“Given the consultation has the word ‘health’ in its title it was disappointing to see little real reference to public health - other than in animal and plant health - when there could be ideas of how to promote dietary health through procurement of local fresh food for schools and hospitals and boosting horticulture production”, she said.
“Physical and mental well-being get a mention, but we need real proposals which will help farmers as well as the general public.”
Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, said she had been led to believe there would be more detail on these public health policies in a separate ‘food plan’ in due course.
Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman also took aim at the consultation, claiming the Government was ‘deeply confused about food and farming post-Brexit’.
“Vague principles and romanticising about the British countryside will not reduce the alarming rise in food banks, tackle growing food insecurity, or give farmers the stability they need”, she said.
“Labour offers real solutions, like seeking to negotiate a comprehensive UK-EU customs union, widening the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and reinstating the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.”