The Agriculture Bill is a landmark bill that will define the UK’s agricultural policy outside of the European Union. It is a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. We can bring in innovative new ideas to support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production and do much better for farming, the environment and animal welfare. The Government proposes to move to a system of paying farmers public money for public goods: principally environmental enhancement.
Food and farming is a bedrock of our economy and environment, generating £112 billion a year and helping shape some of our finest habitats and landscapes. I am pleased that the Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament in 2022. Once we have the freedom to move away from the Common Agricultural Policy, the proposal is for an 'agricultural transition' period in England, allowing farmers to prepare for a new system.
Ministers have consulted widely with farmers and others. The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for "public goods", such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
The new environmental land management (ELM) system will bring in a new era for farming, providing an income stream for farmers and land managers who protect and preserve our natural environment. For the first time, farmers and land managers will be able to decide for themselves how they can deliver environmental benefits from their businesses and their land, and how they integrate this into their food, timber and other commercial activities.
Organic farmers will therefore be well placed to benefit from ELM due to the environmental benefits they produce, such as increased biodiversity and improved soil quality, which contribute to the delivery of these goals.
The Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.
I am therefore supportive of the Bill, but I also think it is important to get it right. Protecting the farmers in my constituency is of vital concern for me. I regularly meet with local farmers and the National Union of Farmers to listen to their views and concerns. I spoke at the Bill’s second reading stage in Parliament to highlight the importance of food production and food security as well as emphasising the importance of rewarding our farmers for their yield. You can view my speech here: https://goo.gl/REcjxj
I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there.