Farm strategy is ‘early priority’ for Defra

A long-awaited strategy for the farming industry could be unveiled before the end of the year as the government seeks to deliver on its promise to grow, buy and sell more British food.

Two weeks after the general election, ministers and Defra civil servants have already held initial meetings with farm leaders to discuss a 25-year vision for agriculture – a key Tory manifesto pledge.

See also: ‘No decision’ on badger cull timetable

Farm minister George Eustice told Farmers Weekly: “We committed in our manifesto to have a 25-year strategy for food and farming and it is going to be a priority for me to develop that [strategy] with the industry during the course of this year.”

George Eustice on farming’s big issues

  • On the Basic Payment Scheme deadline “If too many people leave it too late, it will cause pressures on the system. You can really help us make sure we can pay you – and pay you on time – by making sure you get applications in as soon as possible.”
  • On badger culling to combat bovine TB “It is too early to give any definitive conclusions but a rollout to new areas is part of our strategy. I am afraid you will have to wait for us to weigh things up before we are able to announce anything further.”
  • On the UK’s relationship with Europe “It is a good opportunity to streamline the CAP to make it simpler and work better for farmers, rather than having too much of a convoluted rulebook which is what we’ve ended up with under the latest reform.”

Devising an industry-led strategy was an “early project” for the government, he added.

As well as Defra, it would involve the NFU, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the Food and Drink Federation, and other industry groups.

Mr Eustice said he hoped the strategy would be in place by the end of the year.

But farmers face uncertainty on a host of other big issues facing the government – including ongoing concerns over the Basic Payment Scheme and badger culling.

The aim of the strategy was to address all the issues that could expand and improve the food and farming industry – including rural development funding, CAP reform, developing new export markets, the role of agri-technology, and skills and apprenticeships.

Mr Eustice said: “We want to pull together a lot of things that are already going on into a coherent strategy that the industry can be fully involved with as well.”

Farm leaders have long called for a government strategy for agriculture, arguing it would give the industry clear direction. Ireland, for example, saw farm output value grow by 33% in four years after the Irish government introduced a Food Harvest 2020 strategy in 2010.

The UK, meanwhile, has fallen behind its competitors in terms of agricultural productivity.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said it was crucial government and industry worked together to halt a 30-year decline that meant the country was now just 60% self-sufficient in food production.

Mr Raymond said: “There is a welcome match in areas like investing for growth, securing access to knowledge and technology, enhancing farmers’ ability to tackle animal and plant health, building safe and secure food chains and protecting key environmental assets.”

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