MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee have warned the Government risks damaging the farming sector and failing to meet its green ambitions if it does not provide more detail on its post-Brexit agricultural policy very soon.
The fresh demand for clarity on the funding, delivery and timing of the scheme was made in a new report from the committee which looked at Defra’s consultation on the future of food, farming and the environment.
MPs called on Ministers to provide further information ‘well before’ the introduction of the Agriculture Bill.
This early consideration of the Government’s plans will be especially important in light of the tight Brexit schedule, which is likely to reduce the amount of time parliament has to scrutinise the bill.
“We are concerned to hear there have been minimal discussions between Defra and the Treasury over the future funding of the new agricultural policy”, the report read.
“There was a legitimate fear among our witnesses that without early commitments to funding levels, well in advance of 2022, promises on funding following the transition period cannot be guaranteed.”
As a result of this evidence, the committee recommended Ministers commit to ‘fully funding’ a future agricultural policy and ring-fencing any cash saved from slashing direct payments for the rural economy and environment.
It also called on Government to provide bigger budgets for any bodies policing the new scheme, and demanded Defra assess what additional skills and resources the payment delivery agency would need.
Vicki Hird, farming campaign coordinator at food alliance Sustain welcomed the report.
She said: “The committee has done its homework in its assessment of Defra’s proposals for future farm policy.
“There is plenty to like, but without the detail and an adequate budget, we agree it is hard to tell if Government can adequately safeguard the future for vital small and medium-sized farms.”
The new demands follow calls from Scottish and Welsh Ministers for the UK Government to provide clarity on agricultural funding for the devolved regions.
Last week, Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing and Welsh Rural Affairs Secretary Lesley Griffiths joined forces to insist Defra share information on future budgets without further delay.
President Tim Breitmeyer said: “Brexit brings major opportunities for positive change in farming, but success depends on a carefully planned transition.
“We are pleased MPs have added their voice to our call for Government to focus on a plan for boosting farm profitability.
“Getting this aspect of post-Brexit right must be considered to be a vital precondition of any moves to remove the basic payment system with a clear strategy, worked up and funding allocated.
“The Committee provides a timely reminder that production of healthy food is, and must remain, the most important land use in our countryside.
“A dynamic, progressive and sustainable farming industry can work alongside significant improvement in our environmental delivery, and a vision for a long-term policy to replace the Common Agricultural Policy must have sustaining this balance as its overriding objective.”
Patrick Begg, outdoors and natural resources director, said: “We are glad MPs agree that funding should be protected to ensure sustainable and profitable farming is underpinned by a healthy natural environment.
“With public money going towards public goods after Brexit, farmers can continue to innovate, becoming more profitable, sustainable and nature-friendly.
“A better future for the countryside, including our farmers, communities and a healthy and beautiful natural environment, is within our grasp.”
Prof Ian Bateman, professor of environmental economics at the University of Exeter
“The argument that we should use public money to fund decent levels of animal welfare is fraught with moral hazard if this translates into in effect paying individuals to not treat animals badly.
“This is better dealt with through clear regulations prohibiting poor welfare backed with trade restrictions against the import of food produced to lower standards.”
Professor Achim Dobermann, director and chief executive at Rothamsted Research
“This report welcomes the Defra-led consultation on future farming, but it also highlights that a lot more details on funding, timing and delivery of the future agricultural policy are required soon.
“I fully agree with the recommendation that the Government produces a farm productivity plan by May 2019, which should also address the critical issue of how to support this through a more strategic and focused approach to research and its translation into better practices.”