Many agricultural groups have responded warmly to Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to replace farm subsidies with funding to support farmers to provide public benefits, including environmentally friendly practice and better access to the countryside.
Currently, the amount paid to farmers in the UK, which is around £3 billion a year, is based on the amount of land they own. However, this has been dubbed unfair, with critics saying that it does not reward efficiency.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Gove said that, while he would like to see the same level of support guaranteed for farmers after 2022, the amount would be subject to consultation, although he stressed he would like to see a figure “broadly the same as it is now”.
A spokeswoman for the Soil Association said that the body welcomed moves towards an agricultural policy that prioritises environmental protection and the new emphasis on the vital links between food, farming and public health.
She said more detail is needed to see how farmers will be enabled and encouraged to shift to higher animal welfare systems, and added that the organisation wants to see the Government make an “ambitious and unambiguous commitment to organic and other agroecological approaches… both during and after 2024”.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Country Landowners Association (CLA) said he was encouraged by the idea of a new Government policy based on rewarding farmers for the range of public benefits they deliver, which is in line with the organisation’s own vision for UK farming.
His words were echoed by the National Farmers Union (NFU) which saw Mr Gove’s speech as a “positive signal” for the farming industry.