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NFU members speak up for farming’s future – but more need to respond to Government consultation

[N]FU North West members have taken their opportunity to speak up for farming’s future at six regional meetings (two per county) designed to explain in detail Defra’s command paper ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’.

The paper is a once in a generation chance to ensure farming’s voice is heard when it matters – as the UK government shapes our future agriculture policy. The decisions made today will impact food and farming for years to come.

NFU North West Regional Director David Hall said: “The Government’s consultation on the future of farming closes on Tuesday 8 May so it’s really important you have your say now. If you haven’t already responded to the consultation, we’ve provided a simple online form on the NFU’s website. We’ve also highlighted three key areas that the NFU feels are crucial.

“Firstly food production – maintaining a robust and resilient domestic food production sector is in the nation’s interest. Secondly trade – it is essential that government trade policy ensures that our current world leading production standards are not undermined. And thirdly the Environment – producing food in a productive and resource efficient way brings environmental benefits for the UK and the world. This is an opportunity to remind the Government that a safe, secure and traceable domestic food supply that is affordable for all is a public right that depends on a thriving farming sector.”

To get a flavour of how farmers in Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire are reacting to the biggest farming consultation since 1947, a meeting was held at Junction 36 Auction Mart in Kendal on Wednesday 18 April, led by the NFU’s Head of Food and Farming – Phil Hambling.

Without doubt, the most vocal audience reaction to the potential road ahead came when Mr Hambling put up a slide about the phasing out of BPS payments.

The UK will formally leave the EU in March 2019, but it is anticipated that government will agree to an implementation period lasting for around another two years. Once Defra has the freedom to move away from the CAP rules it proposes that there will be an ‘agricultural transition’ period in England. During this ‘agricultural transition’ period, direct payments (BPS) will continue. However, Defra is proposing to reduce and phase out direct payments (BPS) completely in England by the end of this period.

Options on the table currently include progressive reductions, applying a CAP to the largest payments or applying a different cap or reduction to a higher or lower number of payments.

Simon Case

NFU member Simon Case who farms at Robbs Water Farm in Barrow really disliked how progressive reductions targeted larger farms, with higher percentage reductions applied to amounts in higher payment bands (as with income tax).

Mr Case said: “It looks like Defra is out to get the larger payments and I disagree with that. Reductions should be made by the hectare. I don’t understand why bigger farms should be caned. Not only that, it’s also an argument that will never be settled in rooms full of farmers who operate farming businesses of differing sizes. The only fair way to reallocate this money is to reduce payments on a hectare rate.”

John Geldard

John Geldard of Low Foulshaw Farm in Levens near Kendal was passionate that a new agricultural policy in England should not be spoken of in terms of a reduction of money to farmers. He wants Defra to reword ‘reduction’ to ‘reallocation’.

Mr Geldard said: “We accept there is change required for the benefit of the public at large. This is an opportunity to make sure any money available goes directly through the farm gate to ensure productivity is increased for everyone’s benefit.”

The fifty strong audience of NFU members also pointed out that increasing productivity ought not to be a dirty phrase.

Will Case

Will Case of Plumpton Cottage Farm in Ulverston said: “There is no conflict here. We need to persuade the people who hold the purse strings that investing in farm productivity brings with it significant environmental benefits. For example investing in new slurry storage would create a whole host of positives for the environment. It’s how we package our wish list that matters.”

Martin Fishwick

Lancaster NFU member Martin Fishwick of Bank House Farm in Silverdale thought the issue of land tenure was pivotal. Mr Fishwick said: “NFU needs to look into land tenure across the board. It’s fundamental to the whole structure of agriculture in this country. Public money meant for active farmers is being intercepted by enormous organisations which are making it really difficult for tenants to get their hands on the money they desperately need.”

Here are some ways to respond to the consultation:

Before responding, read our guidance on the NFU’s website on how to structure your response.

Responding directly via the government’s Citizen Space:

  • This involves completing a web-based questionnaire.
  • You do not have to reply to all of the questions that are posed.
  • You may wish to read through the command paper alongside the NFU’s summary before selecting which questions to respond to.

Responding via email to Defra – [email protected]

  • Farmers wishing to do this option should either address the specific questions set out in the command paper, or provide more general views and feedback.
  • The NFU suggests sticking to the themes and areas of questioning in the command paper. This will make it easier for Defra to collate the feedback.

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