Agriculture’s true value to the nation’s economy has been overlooked for far too long and must not be under-estimated in future government policy decisions, farming leaders have warned.
The Government’s Agricultural Bill is passing through Parliament at a speed that is allowing far too little scrutiny, a House of Lords committee was told.
Yet, industry figures explained that the legislation, which sets the framework for Britain’s first domestic agricultural policy for decades, will need to be continually reviewed to make sure that a new payments model to support farms recognises and adequately supports the importance of food production to the country’s economy.
Farming lobbyists shared their views with the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy today about the importance of the agricultural sector to the modern rural economy as part of an ongoing inquiry by peers.
In raw economic terms, agriculture, fisheries and forestry contributes about 10 per cent of the rural economy but Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said the real scale of farming’s worth runs far deeper.
“We underpin the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, a role that has not been looked into in particular detail in the past,” the union leader said.
“We have to look at the connectivity within the allied trades that are all underpinned by a strong agricultural sector. When you look at the fact that 72 per cent of all the UK is farmed, that becomes an incredibly important sector.”
British agriculture provides 60 per cent of the food consumed domestically, said George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, who added that younger generations of farmers contribute more to the rural economy than their predecessors through business diversifications that were not happening in the past.
All this has a “multiplier effect”, he said, because farmers tend to spend more of their money in their local community.
Over the coming months, The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission will map all the public, private and NGO financial resources that flows through the rural economy to gain a better understanding of what enables a rural economy to flourish, the commission’s director Sue Pritchard told the committee.
The Government’s Agricultural Bill has offered some welcome policy direction post-Brexit, peers heard, but they were told that their are still too many unknowns dogging the industry.
Mr Dunn said: “What’s going to be our trading status in a few months’ time? What’s going to be our access to (foreign) labour.
“There are elements of the Government’s policy that give us concern and part of the problem is the Agricultural Bill is going through at such speed at the moment that we haven’t really got enough time to give it proper scrutiny.”
Ms Batters said she wanted greater commitment from Ministers to intervene in market failure. She also insisted on flexibility in the Bill to respond to the impact of the Government’s proposed “public money for public goods” model as it unfolds.
“We are going to continually have to impact assess how this is looking on the ground,” she said.
The inquiry continues.