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Mr Gove’s Brighter Future for Farming needs Defra’s time and resource

Date Published: 22/02/2018

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs


Defra minister Michael Gove’s speech, A Brighter Future for Farming, indicates there are many reasons to be positive about the future of UK food and farming, writes OF&G chief executive Roger Kerr.

But with just 400 days before the UK officially parts ways with the EU, the country’s agricultural industry is still sorely lacking the clarity and direction it needs to achieve radical change.

In an address to the NFU conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (20 February), Mr Gove said creating a domestic policy for UK agriculture creates a significant opportunity to reshape the country’s food and farming sector for the better.

To make those improvements, he outlined the importance of protecting environmental and welfare standards, delivering productivity, and producing healthy foods.

He also stressed the need to use public money to provide public goods, explaining that he wanted to see a system of support which worked for producers and consumers by delivering sustainability for the long-term.

Mr Gove acknowledged that achieving these goals relies on changes being made. He wants to see science-led innovation, greater collaboration, better bargaining powers for farmers, and landscape-scale benefits which make soils healthier, rivers cleaner, and creates new habitats for wildlife.

These intentions are ones that OF&G strongly supports, particularly as organic production offers many of these benefits already.

Where our concerns lie are around the detail of how these changes will be properly planned, funded and implemented.

In the face of inevitable cuts to the agriculture budget, there needs to be clarification on exactly what government expects farmers to achieve, and how it intends for them to reach those goals.

As we said in our recent strategy paper, An Organic Systems Approach to the Provision of Public Goods, producers who are supplying the public goods Mr Gove identifies need to be properly recognised and supported.

With organic farming’s systematic, regenerative approach to food production meeting so many of the minister’s criteria, it’s only right that organic producers are properly rewarded for the benefits they offer — rather than bearing the costs as they have so far had to.

Above all, however, there needs to be a clear commitment to the appropriate time and resource it will take to drive real change.

This includes giving support to agencies such as Natural England to enable them to deliver stewardship schemes effectively, ensuring farmers are let let down by poor IT systems, conflicting advice, or complicated regulation.

It also requires a guarantee that those farmers who are providing those longed-for benefits and public goods — like those offered by organic producers — are properly compensated for their efforts.

In his speech Mr Gove showed that he obviously understands the challenges facing the food and farming sectors in creating a profitable, sustainable future.

Where the challenges now lie is ensuring that both he and Defra have the time and appropriate resources to understand how these challenges can be properly managed for the benefit of UK farmers, consumers and the environment.