Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:

Debate around a new agricultural policy has centred on the concept of paying farmers for the ‘public goods’ they provide which are not rewarded by the market. Amongst the list of public goods in the Government’s consultation on the future of farming, which closed this week, there was something missing. Comments were invited on whether public money should be provided to support improved air quality, climate change mitigation, and increased biodiversity, but there was no mention of food production.

Whether or not food production is a public good is open to debate. Food security was seen as vital when the Common Agricultural Policy was first started in 1962 during the height of the Cold War. But we live in slightly different times and many people would now regard climate change and environmental damage as more concerning than fear of invasion or attack from a foreign power. Whatever your view, farmers are first and foremost food producers and our new agricultural policy must start with the objective of helping to secure a productive and competitive farming industry.

The environmental outcomes that the Government wants to support are sound objectives but none of them can be delivered unless we have a profitable and sustainable farming industry. This is particularly important in upland areas where hill farmers, who often provide the most amount of public goods, receive the least reward from a volatile market. This challenge must be addressed head on or we risk turning farmers into nothing more than environmental contractors with little incentive to continue farming.

Farming is hugely important to the countryside. It is central to the economic and social life of some of our most rural communities, and the cornerstone for many of the activities we enjoy. In most cases a successful local shoot depends on a successful local farm and any new agricultural policy must be compatible with other land management practices, including shooting.

Dislike of the EU’s agricultural policy was something that was shared by all sides in the referendum campaign. We must use the opportunity of Brexit to create a better system of support, one which promotes a profitable farming industry capable of delivering the public goods which the Government wants to see.

Defra is the department responsible for the environment, but also food and rural communities. It is vital that all three aspects are integrated into any new agricultural policy.

Our submission to Defra’s Health and Harmony consultation on the future of farming can be found here.

Tim Bonner
Chief Executive
Follow me at @CA_TimB