Minister under pressure to back British farmers

Defra minister George Eustice is facing calls to back British agriculture after telling farmers they should move away from the notion of subsidies.

Mr Eustice is due to deliver a keynote speech at the Northern Farming Conference in Northumberland on Wednesday (9 November).

The risks and opportunities posed by Brexit will be one of the hot topics addressed at this year’s event, which takes place at Hexham Auction Mart.

The government has pledged to maintain the current level of farm support payments until 2020.

See also: New farm support system will end payment delays – Eustice

But earlier this autumn, Mr Eustice described leaving the European Union as an opportunity to move to a “totally different way of supporting farming”.

He added: “One of the things we’ve floated is whether we could move to a totally different type of system where you help farmers manage risks.”

There was also the potential to reward farmers who committed to practices such as catchment sensitive farming, which aims to reduce water pollution, said Mr Eustice.

Mapping madness

Doing so would support farmers in a “much more natural, holistic way” than the CAP system, which involved the “madness of trying to map every single feature in the country”.

After speaking at an NFU fringe meeting during the Tory party conference in Birmingham, Mr Eustice told a meeting in Belfast that farmers should “move away from the notion of subsidies”.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has now challenged Mr Eustice to “back Britain’s farmers” by committing to the EU single market and ruling out a post-Brexit cut in support payments.

British farmers could face crippling tariffs on exports if the UK left the single market as well as the European Union, claimed Mr Farron.

Many farmers would be driven under unless the government commit to maintaining the current level of farm support payments, he added.

Mr Farron said: “Farmers are desperate for certainty, and the government should be upfront with them about the future.”

He added: “I am challenging [Mr Eustice] to commit to retaining membership of the single market and to maintaining the level of farm support payments post-2020.”

Continued support

“Without continued support and the ability to trade freely, huge numbers of local farmers will be put out of business, and with them will go the landscape and way of life that characterises rural Britain.”

The Northern Farming Conference will also hear from Peter Kendall, former NFU president and current chairman of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB).

Sir Peter said: “We are entering one of the most defining moments for the future of British agriculture, as the terms of Brexit are both proposed by government and finally agreed.

“We’ve always realised that support would be reduced over time, but there is now every chance that this will happen more quickly than it once might have.

“We also face more competition in domestic and overseas markets.

“The challenge for British agriculture will be to minimise the risks and to maximise the opportunities this presents us.”

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