Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 5:50 pm, 10th October 2018

I am a farmer’s wife and I represent Sleaford and North Hykeham, a beautiful area of rural Lincolnshire for which this Agriculture Bill is particularly important. Farmers care about the environment. They do so because they derive income from the land to support their family, and they will need to care for the land if they are to continue to work on it successfully. More than that, however, farmers love their land, they love wildlife and they love producing food. Some 96% of farms are family farms, in which one generation is merely the custodian of land that many hope future generations of their family will enjoy.

I welcome the direction of travel in the Bill, which will fairly reward the public good that farmers do, not just to mitigate any loss of revenue but in recognition of the benefits that we all derive from their care of the land. Those benefits include clean air and water, high-quality soil, a biodiverse habitat, a beautiful rural environment and much more.

I welcome the contractual nature of the new schemes and the Secretary of State’s assurance that they will be of a longer duration—five to 10 years—which will give certainty of income to farmers and duration of benefit to all. I have met the Secretary of State to discuss this in recent months, and I also welcome the widening of the GCA’s remit to include more areas of the farming sector.

The number and variety of public goods that the Secretary of State has identified is great, and I know that my constituents will look forward to benefiting from them all. However, even if the schemes are, as been said, simpler, with number and variety comes complexity for the farmer. Which scheme should they choose? For the larger farmer, who has an office full of specialists to weigh the pros and cons of each scheme, the decision will be straightforward, but for the parent and child combinations who run so many of our country’s farms, it will not be so easy. It will also be easier for a larger farmer to add a new footpath without it going past their kitchen window. It will be easier for them to identify areas of poor or marginal land to turn over to environmental schemes. I therefore ask the Secretary of State what will be done to guide farmers about which schemes they should use and what assessment he has made of how the money is likely to be distributed between large and small farms.

The transition period from the CAP to the new scheme has been set at seven years, and it will start in 2021, giving farmers nine years to adjust. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has listened to farmers’ concerns about the pace of change at a time of uncertainty caused by Brexit.

Finally, as a paediatrician, I am concerned about our diet and the health of our nation. Some 22% of five-year-olds and more than a third of 11-year-olds are overweight or obese. Food production is part of the definition of agriculture, and although I welcome the definition of productivity as a public good, I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated on how the Bill will secure the availability of high-quality food for my constituents. If that is to happen, food production must be profitable. How does the Minister intend to ensure that when farmers have the choice to use a given parcel of land for an environmental scheme, there is enough incentive for them to do so—but not so much that there is no longer any incentive to farm, reducing the availability of home-grown produce?

Overall, I welcome the Bill. I look forward to supporting its Second Reading this evening and further scrutinising the detail in Committee.