More investment in digital connectivity is needed so farmers can tap into lucrative markets for local food, says a think-tank report.
The government must take action to transform the British countryside and put farming first to revitalise rural areas, according to the policy paper from Parliament Street.
Lack of investment by consecutive governments in agriculture and rural affairs has left the UK’s rural communities severely challenged, it warns.
The 3,000-word report, Sustaining the Heartland: Challenges of rural communities, farming and agriculture, argues that the UK farming industry has largely been neglected by policy-makers and is little more than a blind spot in the Westminster bubble.
Report author Naomi Ferguson said: “From infrastructure challenges to poor digital connectivity, the day-to-day rural life of farming communities is getting harder by the minute.”
The government should recognise the huge contribution made by rural communities to the economy – and support them with broadband, smarter transport and financial incentives, she added.
“The wider public also has a crucial role to play, buying meat and goods from local providers to boost these critical industries and prevent large supermarkets from forcing closures of small companies.”
Key recommendations in the report include government help to develop a dynamic, innovative sector that is accessible to new entrants by reversing the loss of farms.
The report says a review of subsidies, grants and taxation affecting farmers should be carried out to support profitable sustainable agricultural practices where possible.
For arable farmers, this should include encouraging opportunities to sequester carbon through use of cover crops, it suggests.
The report also calls for an industry-led initiative to ensure the best possible trade deals for the industry and more work to encourage the public procurement of local food.
Defra has said it will replace the Common Agricultural Policy with a fairer system of farm support after the UK leaves the European Union on 31 October.
It has pledged to protect the total cash for farm support until 2022 and replace the basic payment with a new system based on rewarding farmers who undertake environmental measures.