George Eustice, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food described his vision for Agricultural policy as “a change in mind set for farmers” at a recent Cornish event.
The event, ‘An evening with…’ organised by accountancy firm PKF Francis Clark, law firm Stephens Scown LLP and property consultants Savills attracted more than 70 people to Healey’s Cyder Farm, near Truro on Friday 11 May.
Mr Eustice, during his talk at the event, stated that the “end state we seek is support, not based on the amount of land that they own, but to reward them for helping the environment, water quality and to changes in husbandry to deliver for the environment and research and development into more productive working practices.”
He laid out the timetable for actions going forward and re-iterated the importance of getting the Agricultural Bill through parliament this autumn. He expressed his fear that this would be a “dangerous time to let things slip”, and by “October 2018, we would need to have a clear idea for arrangements in the future”.
The consultation document ‘The future for food, farming and the environment’ which will form the basis of the Bill, has been out to consultation since February and closed on 8 May. It has received over 44,000 responses (20,000 of these in the last week alone) and the Minister commented that he is “looking forward” to reviewing them.
The Camborne, Redruth and Hayle MP spoke of the need for ‘early adopters’ of any new scheme and that the reduction in single farm payment to the very largest farmers, as suggested in the consultation document, should be seen as a gradual migration, rather than penalising those larger farmers.
Mr Eustice also pointed out the importance of stress testing the scheme to ensure that the mechanisms put in place work effectively and efficiently. This would be much easier to achieve with a smaller cohort moving through the system first, whilst also giving those smaller, family farms enough time to make the changes necessary.
He also said that government does not want to “dictate people’s businesses” and therefore will not be telling farmers how to run their businesses – it will be up to them to decide at what level, if any, they would like to engage.
The Minister also reminded the audience that post Brexit “we will be a free country that is able to make our own laws and draft our own law” and as such, when we are no longer bound by EU regulations, he is keen for farmers and others to maintain a dialogue with government who will be “open to innovative and creative ideas for the future”.
Brian Harvey, Head of Agriculture at PKF Francis Clark said: “We were delighted to welcome the Minister once again during what is clearly a critical time post the recent consultation and before the Agricultural Bill is published. I felt Mr Eustice answered all of the questions raised from the informed audience very well and was able to provide the assurances needed re the future prospects of the industry.”
“This was another excellent opportunity to hear from one of the chief architects shaping post-Brexit agricultural policy in the UK” reports Gareth Rowe, Head of Savills Professional Team in Cornwall, “and importantly to question the Minister on how the industry will be supported in the future. The continuing flow of questions from the floor clearly demonstrated the importance of this phase of the Brexit process to Cornish famers and landowners.”
In her vote of thanks, Kate Theophilus, a partner in Stephens Scown LLP based in Truro and specialising in rural matters; made mention of the fact that “it was clear, a lot of work was going on behind the scenes in the Brexit process and we will watch with interest the meeting of the timelines set out by the Minister. These were worrying times for all involved and undoubtedly there would be strong familiar themes coming out of the 44,000 responses; many of which had been aired this evening”.