Yorkshire at heart of Government's plans for farming's evolution: George Eustice

Agriculture is at the heart of much of the landscape here in Yorkshire with a real mix of farming.

George Eustice speaks to farmers in Skipton in 2017. PIcture: Tony Johnson
George Eustice speaks to farmers in Skipton in 2017. PIcture: Tony Johnson

Farming helps shape the character of this valued landscape with sheep and cattle on the hills, producing food the whole of the UK can enjoy from arable and horticulture crops to high quality pig and poultry production.

Across Yorkshire and the Humber income from farming has increased in recent years to over £400 million a year for the region and we want all farmers to continue to be able to benefit from a thriving local agricultural economy.

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That’s why we are developing our future agricultural policy to reflect the variety of farming practiced both here and across England and developing new grants to support farmers who want to invest in their business, reduce their costs and improve their profitability.

We recently launched the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme which will provide funding to help farmers based in National Parks or AONBs like the Moors and the Dales to make improvements to the natural environment and improve public access on their land.

That funding will go towards one-off projects to support nature recovery; improve public access; mitigate the impacts of climate change; provide opportunities for people to enjoy and understand the landscape; and support nature-friendly and sustainable farm businesses.

Trials have been underway for some time working with local farmers in North Yorkshire and the national park on how to plan and deliver environmental management in a way that encompasses a variety of farming systems and a tapestry of nationally and internationally important habitats.

Last week, we published details of the first standards of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will open to farmers in spring next year.

We’ve decided to start with soil health since that is where everything connected with successful farming starts.

Enhancing the natural health and fertility of our soils is one of the most important things we can do to start making our farming more profitable and sustainable.

In recent years, we’ve seen a renewed interest in an ancient knowledge - the knowledge around what makes healthy, fertile soil.

Farmers instinctively understand this - we know that soil is more than a growing medium, we know that soils are alive, and farmers know that the extent to which they have humus and organic matters in the soil is key to plant health.

Through our soils standards under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, we could save as much as 60,000 tonnes of CO2 each year from 2023 to 2027, increasing to 800,000 tonnes per year by 2037.

Our initial Sustainable Farming Incentive offer will also include a Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard designed to help us assess the condition of the moorlands and work out how best to invest in their restoration through sustainable farming practices.

To incentivise a high take up of the new scheme, we are adopting a new approach to payments that is more generous than the old EU schemes so we can get the levels of uptake we need to achieve our environmental goals.

We have also reviewed payments in Countryside Stewardship so that we can increase the number of farmers providing environmental outcomes as we move towards roll out of our new offers.

We also want to support those farmers committed to improving the health of their livestock, so we will be opening a fund to support an annual health and welfare review conducted by a vet to help inform farmer’s work to improve animal health and welfare. This is the first element of our Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, which we’ve been working with the sector to design and develop.

I have said many times that we want the move from the old system to the new to be an evolution not a revolution.

We recognise the dependency on area payments that the old EU schemes created and the distortions it caused on land rents and input costs, so we will unwind those distortions with care over the next seven years.

However, it is also my hope that farmers who embrace these new schemes will discover that healthy soils and healthy livestock leads to higher profitability.

George Eustice is the Environment Secretary.

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