Rural leaders have hit out at the National Trust’s vision for a post-Brexit agricultural policy, with the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) likening it to a ‘one-legged stool’.
The trust’s six policy ideals, which focus on boosting the environment rather than food production, received a barrage of criticism from industry stakeholders who said the plan did not take into account the vital role farmers play in the rural economy and in feeding the population.
The Farmers Union of Wales called the proposals ‘one dimensional’ and warned of the dangers of ignoring rural communities and economics.
FUW president and National Trust tenant farmer Glyn Roberts said: “Our environment, culture, communities and economy are heavily interwoven, with food production linking everything together. You only have to look at the Trust’s own farms here in Wales to see that complexity.
“The dangers of suggesting sweeping policies based upon single issues and incorrect assumptions are clear – in the worst cases the impacts would be akin to something like the highland clearances.”
TFA chief executive George Dunn said while he agreed a proportion of agricultural subsidies should be earmarked for outcome focused agri-envrionment schemes, it was only part of what was required from a new policy.
“Post Brexit Government policy for agriculture must address all of the market failures that exist and not just the provision of environmental public goods,” said Mr Dunn, adding the TFA, in its own vision for a new agricultural policy, argued for three distinct elements of a new policy which boosted business resilience and market development alongside a package of agri-environment measures.
“The declining share of national income spent on primary food products, the structure of food marketing creating an unfair trading platform for farmers, long-term food security and uneven production standards all need to be addressed. Focusing only on domestic environmental outcomes would be a huge mistake,” added Mr Dunn.
CLA president Ross Murray echoed the comments and added a policy based solely on environmental objectives was not conducive to a profitable farming sector.
Responding to Mr Dunn’s comments, National Trust enterprises director Patrick Begg said he saw the charity’s aspirations for nature as the ‘central pillar in supporting farming’s long-term sustainability and delivering the key public benefits that the current market is failing to secure’.
He said: “Crucially, it will also deliver transparent benefits to the taxpaying public, maximising the chance that the government will continue to fund farming in a post-Brexit world.”
Mr Begg said he agreed better marketing and information for consumers about responsibly produced British food, encouragement of innovation in order to produce food without compromising the environment, and providing better access to core business training and advice would all be beneficial to farmers.
He added: “The debate should now focus on how the industry – especially the processors and retailers who we should be looking to for support and reinvestment – can step up to the mark to tackle these issues.
"It is not clear that injecting significant public money, at the potential cost of securing our most important but perilously threatened natural assets, is the best or only solution.”