“I’ve learned many things about farming in the short time since I took up my new job – from the ups and downs of crop prices to the time it takes to finish a beef animal for market.
Of course, this is far outweighed by all the things I have still to learn, but one point which struck me instantly is how many farmers feel undervalued and unappreciated. Sometimes even victimised.
There is no doubt that society ought to value you for the jobs you do. After all, farming is about food, people, the landscape and the environment, things that touch every one of us every day.
Farming is part of our cultural heritage, our economy and the very fabric of society and I have already seen that many farmers show skill, imagination and an innovative flair which puts them on a par with the best British entrepreneurs.
So one of my aims in this job is to help farming regain its place as a great British success story.
This means I want us in government to work in partnership with the farming industry. To do this we are going to have to agree on a joint plan of action, a shared agenda for the future.
If we can draw up a plan that suits us both, then we can use it to shape the future of farming for at least the next 10 years.
My starting point for this agenda would be that farming needs to be profitable, flexible, give consumers what they want, enhance the environment, boost the local economy and carefully manage risk in areas like animal health.
I also want to point out that we are a nation living beyond its means. The planet has scarce resources of water, energy and natural materials and we use up too many of them in this country. So whatever we agree will need to take account of what is called one planet living.
Farming is integral to the fight to reduce climate change, conserve natural resources and enhance the natural beauty of the countryside. So one planet living also means one planet farming -respecting the limits of our natural resources and nurturing them.
So both of us face many challenges, risks and opportunities and it makes sense for us to face them together.
Now is not the time for me to give precise details of what I think each of us should do. I want to have a debate about that with anyone who shares my passion.
But I would like to suggest four main principles which should be at the heart of our shared agenda.
The first of these is the need to take a long-term view. We all know that farming has changed, is changing and will change further.
It is not the place of government to say how many farms nor what type of farms there should be in the future, but clearly what you need from us is a clear framework – of policy and funding. In exchange, what we need from you is a clear commitment to transform the industry further.
Secondly, I believe, this reform needs to be linked to investment. Environmental stewardship is the best way for farming to protect and enhance landscape and wildlife while helping to reduce climate change and already about 40% of available farmland in England is under environmental management, a wonderful success story.
We want to increase this figure, but I know you will ask how this is to be funded. I am already engaged in serious discussion with the Treasury on this. I am looking to secure a deal (on voluntary modulation, on our level of co-financing and on the industry’s share of costs and responsibilities) which will underpin our shared agenda.
Meanwhile I want better regulations (and where possible no regulations). We are serious about cutting red tape that we control by 25% and I am now thinking of targeting the same reduction for bureaucracy from the EU.
The final principle I would like to suggest is that of whole system change. I am thinking particularly here of the food chain and animal health and welfare.
Farming needs to share responsibility with us for that change, giving consumers exactly what they want and helping to reduce the risk of animal disease. In exchange, we can promise a real say in decision making on animal health and welfare.
These are the principles I think should be at the heart of our shared agenda. But I want to hear what farmers think about the way forward. A real partnership will work if we share the same aims and can agree on how to shoulder the burden of responsibility.
We’ll do the work together, but the world will benefit.” – David Miliband, DEFRA secretary