Enhanced animal welfare is among the “public goods” that could be funded under a post-Brexit agricultural policy, believes Defra secretary Michael Gove.
The government should support industry-led initiatives that promote higher welfare standards, Mr Gove will tell the NFU’s annual conference on Tuesday (20 February).
Peppered with praise for growers and livestock producers, it will be his biggest speech to a farming audience since being appointed last summer.
Mr Gove is expected to say that the voices of farmers and food producers are now more central to government thinking than at any time for 50 years.
His keynote speech will be delivered to an estimated 1,500 conference delegates at the Birmingham ICC.
It comes ahead of a forthcoming Defra command paper due to outline proposals for the government’s agricultural policy after the UK leaves the European Union.
“I believe the most important public good we should pay for is environmental protection and enhancement,” Mr Gove is expected to say.
But he will add that there are other public goods also deserving of public money.
“I also believe investing in higher animal welfare standards and investing in improved training and education for those in agriculture and food production are clear public goods.
“We have a high baseline for animal health standards, which we will continue to enforce.
“However, we could also support industry-led initiatives to improve these standards, especially in cases where animal welfare remains at the legislative minimum.
“This may include pilot schemes that offer payments to farmers delivering higher welfare outcomes, or payments to farmers running trial approaches and technologies to improve animal welfare that are not yet an industry standard.”
Mr Gove’s speech will also recognise the importance of investing in the potential of new technology to boost agricultural productivity.
Food is at the heart of government thinking, he will tell delegates.
As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the government has established a Food and Drink Sector Council, he is expected to say.
Its members include representatives from primary producers, processors and distributors, the hospitality sector and retail.
The council aims to identify where more needs to be done and how to further improve productivity, enhance training, support innovation and open new export markets.
“The voices of farmers and food producers, their hopes and concerns, expectations and ambitions, and indeed obligations and duties, are now more central to government thinking than at any time for 50 years.
“It is crucial that we, together, make the most of this historic opportunity as we leave the EU, this unfrozen moment, to shape policy decisively in the interest of future generations.”