Boosting productivity and protecting environment at heart of future farming plan - Villiers

Radical changes to agricultural policy will protect the environment for future generations while boosting productivity for farmers, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers will say today.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 8:27 am
A European Union flag in front of Big Ben, London. Pic: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire
A European Union flag in front of Big Ben, London. Pic: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, the Environment Secretary will confirm that the Government’s landmark Agriculture Bill will be introduced this month to Parliament.

This will move the UK away from the EU’s bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy and towards a new approach where farmers and land managers are rewarded with public money for ‘public goods’ – such as enhancing biodiversity, tackling climate change and raising standards of animal welfare.

At the same time, outside the EU farmers and land managers will have greater opportunities to boost their productivity, leading to more successful and resilient farm businesses.

In England, there will be a seven-year transition period for farmers to plan and adjust for these changes, during which Direct Payments will be gradually phased out.

Throughout 2020, the Government will be seeking views from farmers and land managers in England on how the future Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme can best work for them.

In her speech, the Environment Secretary will urge farmers to seize the opportunities to rethink agricultural policy for the first time in 40 years, and to be bold and innovative in the proposals they put forward.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers is expected to say: “We want our new scheme to deliver value for money as well as boosting sustainable productivity to support farmers in their work of feeding the nation.

“Our proposals for Environmental Land Management will be one of the most important environmental reforms for 40 years.

“The process we are about to embark on will, I hope, provide an example to others around the world of what can be achieved if we rethink how we manage the land and produce our food.

“We have the potential to create a virtuous circle between agriculture, tackling climate change, protecting biodiversity, and securing investment in our rural economy.”

To provide support to farmers in the lead up to, and during, this transformation, the Environment Secretary will confirm the Government will guarantee the current annual budget for farmers in every year of the Parliament.

Addressing the conference, the Environment Secretary will also reaffirm the Government’s commitment to protect the high standards of British farming as the UK leaves the European Union.

She will emphasise how our farmers will lead the way in environmental and animal welfare standards after Brexit, and the Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure that future trade deals live up to the values of farmers and consumers across the UK.

In her speech, she is expected to go on to say: “Our strong British food brand is built on the high standards to which we hold ourselves.

“We can maintain and indeed enhance UK standards as we negotiate new trading relationships with friends and neighbours in the EU and leading global economies.”

The Secretary of State’s speech at the Oxford Farming Conference will be live-streamed from 9.30am. Details on how to stream the speech can be found at: https://www.ofc.org.uk/blog/register-ofc20-live-stream

The Soil Association has reacted to Theresa Villiers’ speech, due to be delivered this morning (08 Jan) at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Rob Percival, Head of Food and Health Policy, Soil Association said: “The Government’s stated commitment to protecting the UK’s farming standards post-Brexit is welcome, but needs to be embedded in legislation. If the Government is truly committed to ensuring that trade deals live up to the values of farmers and citizens, they should have no objection to providing reassurance by legislating in the Agriculture Bill to guarantee this.

“The commitment to ‘sustainable productivity’ is also promising, though urgent clarification is needed on what this means. If ‘productivity’ is poorly defined, it could damage the natural environment and undermine efforts to tackle climate change. The Agriculture Bill must ensure that the climate and nature are fully incorporated into productivity payments. This should incentivise agroecological and nature-friendly farming.”