The House of Commons recently debated the Agricultural Bill which will put in place the system that will replace the Common Agricultural Policy as we transition fully out of the EU at the end of this year. The Bill is primarily a framework enabling the Secretary of State to make detailed regulations throughout the rest of the year. SW Devon farmers need clarity and by the autumn they should have it.
Farmers have already been guaranteed that the level of financial support to them will be maintained throughout this Parliament at current levels and that the assistance they currently receive called Direct Payments will be tapered out over 7 years. This is partly a reflection that in farming changes involving land usage and cattle take years not months to achieve.
I attended a packed meeting recently in the excellent Moorland Hotel, Wotter to listen to local farmers concerns about their futures.
The system envisaged by the government is to spend public money for public goods – which can mean a whole range of things that the Bill will ultimately define but will incentivise land use that enhances our natural environment and helps us combat climate change. We have to encourage food production, but in a way that is sustainable. This is certainly possible, but the attitudes and practices of some farmers will have to adapt to achieve it.
At the meeting some farmers railed against the focus on climate change, but that kind of hostile approach takes us nowhere. The government accepts that we must reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, if not before, and agricultural production must play its part.
There are some impressive local examples of people who are farming sustainably: producing high quality meat and dairy products in a way that protects and preserves the environment. Products can be sold locally and reduce the amount of food products transported miles on our roads. It can be done profitably and must become the model for all. It must embrace modern green technology and embrace bio-diversity.
It is a myth that eating less meat will save our planet – it all depends how that meat is produced. Non-intensive farming in my constituency producing tasty meat sold and consumed locally is not a threat to our climate.
I remain convinced that our farmers have a bright future, but only if they embrace the challenges and opportunities of farming in a sustainable way. I am confident that they will.