Countryside unites to face Gove on Agriculture Bill

The countryside will put on a united front in Westminster today, with farmers, landowners and environmental groups joining forces to press their demands for a long-term funding commitment to the new Agriculture Bill.

The so-called Green Brexit, unveiled by Michael Gove last month, calls for farmers to be paid for contributing to higher environmental standards after a seven year transition period that will see what he said were “burdensome and outdated” EU rules and subsidies.

Mr Gove and the Shadow Defra Secretary, Sue Hayman, are both expected to meet today’s delegation, which sees, amongst others, the Country Land and Business Association, National Farmers’ Union and a coalition representing 13 environmental organisations including National Trust, RSPB and the Woodland Trust, speaking with a single voice.

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Organisers said that while each group was campaigning for independent amendments to the Bill, they were “united in their advocacy that a commitment to long-term funding is crucial to achieving the Government’s ambitions of feeding the nation with high quality food alongside delivering environmental benefits”.

They said their aim was to establish a long term, “multi-annual budgetary framework” that delivered “certainty for the rural economy and farming”.

Tim Breitmeyer, the CLA president, said: “Politicians must recognise that delivery of new policies in the Agriculture Bill will require change and investment by farms and landowners. Greater certainty on longer-term funding intentions will help provide the confidence needed to make these changes.”

The NFU president, Minette Batters, also said farming was “a long-term business” and that farmers needed “clarity on what their regulatory environment will look like now for the years ahead.”

She described the Bill as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of farming policy”, and added: “It is crucial that this piece of legislation has food production at its heart, which will ensure farmers continue to deliver safe, traceable and affordable food while maintaining our high environmental and animal welfare standards.”

Patrick Begg, at the National Trust, echoed the NFU in calling for regular budgets “so that farmers can invest in the knowledge they will get a fair return for their efforts”.

He added: “This should be teamed with action in the supply chain to secure a better price for farmers at the farm gate.”

Debbie Tripley, of the World Wildlife Fund, said: “The UK has some of the most degraded nature in the world.

“Since 70 percent of the country is used for agriculture, this bill offers one of the most important legislative opportunities for us to begin restoring nature, for wildlife and people.

“If the UK wants to be a global leader on the environment, we have to walk the talk here at home. That means making a long-term investment in this transformation.”