A senior Defra adviser has urged more farmers to respond to the government’s agriculture consultation to balance the bulk of views coming from green lobby groups.
Speaking at an NFU South East meeting in Basingstoke on Tuesday (17 April), Tim Leunig, who will assist Michael Gove on Brexit farm policy, said farmers should not delay in responding to Defra’s Health and Harmony consultation, which closes on 8 May.
Prof Leunig, a professor of economic history at the London School of Economics, said many responses so far had been received from environmental groups chiefly concerned with improving biodiversity, natural capital and open access to the countryside.
Prof Leunig said Defra ministers were in daily contact with farming organisations, including the NFU, CLA and Tenant Farmers’ Association, and their influence on government should not be underestimated.
But he said Defra wanted to hear from more grass-roots farmers and he advised as many as possible to respond to the consultation or the voice of the farming industry will be drowned out.
Prof Leunig explained: “We are having a consultation at the moment about what is a ‘public good’ and it is really for you to define what you think this is.
“What do you do as farmers that you think the public should value for which you get no commercial return? What do you think is legitimate for taxpayers to pay you to do because it’s good for society as a whole?”
The Defra consultation proposes phasing out direct payments and it suggests farmers will be rewarded for undertaking environmental measures.
But Prof Leunig said it was not a “given” that the overall size of the UK farm subsidy pot will be cut in the future.
“If the case you make for the public goods you are providing is sufficiently strong, then there is no doubt that Michael Gove will turn around to Defra and the Treasury and say, ‘that £3bn of support for farmers is not enough’.”
The stronger case farmers can give, the stronger hand Mr Gove would have in negotiations with the Treasury, Prof Leunig added.
“We really need you (farmers) to provide a compelling case for why people value the things you do over and above providing good quality food at affordable prices.”
He said Defra also wants to hear from the best-performing farmers to help others improve productivity.