Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom has unveiled plans for a major consultation on the UK’s post-Brexit farm policy – describing it as a “once in a generation opportunity” for British agriculture.
In a keynote speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, Mrs Leadsom said she was preparing to publish two consultation documents.
One consultation will cover the future for food and farming, the other will cover the environment.
“This will be your chance to tell us, in writing or at the many stakeholder meetings we’re planning around the country, your views and ambitions,” Mrs Leadsom told conference delegates at the Oxford Examination Schools on Wednesday (4 January).
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Seeking to reunite a farming sector that remains deeply divided over the threats and opportunities from Brexit, Mrs Leadsom said she accepted there were probably “as many views on the future of farming as there actual farmers” at the conference.
This is a once in a generation opportunity to look at new ideas and also at how other great farming nations operate Andrea Leadsom
But she pledged: “However you voted in the referendum, you can rest assured that I am fully committed to securing the best possible deal for the UK.”
Food, farming and the environment would be central to the success of negotiations as the UK left the EU.
Promising to reduce red tape post-Brexit, Mrs Leadsom said Defra’s EU exit programme already had eight different work streams.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to look at new ideas and also at how other great farming nations operate,” she said.
Consultation issues are expected to include risk management and increasing resilience to extreme weather and price volatility.
It is also expected to look at ways of boosting capital investment and productivity, while increasing production and enhancing the environment.
Mrs Leadsom said: “These are all important questions that will shape the way the industry progresses over the next decade – but no decisions will be taken without you and this consultation is a key part of the process.”
NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “Market access to Europe is going to be important, so you have to question how much bureaucracy you can reduce and still have the equivalence that we will still be allowed to export into Europe.
“It will be a fine balance and big debate.”
Country Land and Business Association president Ross Murray said: “We can achieve increased productivity and improved environmental outcomes though a new world leading food, farming and environmental policy and we are committed to working with ministers to deliver on this.”
The consultation is expected to get under way in the coming months. Mrs Leadsom said she was unable to give a specific date – although it would be “in the near future”. Asked whether it would be before spring, she said she hoped it would be.