Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury 6:05 pm, 10th October 2018

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Simon Hoare. The concerns that he has expressed on behalf of his farmers about productivity and food production are echoed in my constituency. Eddisbury’s highly productive lowland farming land is responsible for producing about 3% of the UK’s dairy products, and the chances are that hon. Members will have used milk from Eddisbury in their coffee at some point this year. Indeed, they might well have woken up to a breakfast glass of milk from Eddisbury.

My hon. Friend Bim Afolami talked about a green Brexit, but I would argue that that that underplays the role of past Ministers and Secretaries of State. The UK has had a strong influence on previous common agricultural policies, and we have seen the EU moving towards a greater focus on the delivery of environmental goods and services—sometimes called ecosystem services. It is good to see the UK Government continuing in that direction of travel, but not at the cost of productivity and hopefully not at the cost of innovation in the farming sector.

What concerns my farmers, particularly after this summer’s experience, is market volatility and market failure. We had some of the toughest weather conditions, with a sustained period of drought. This meant that my farmers were having to feed their winter fodder to their cattle during the summer. It took a long time, but I am grateful to the Secretary of State for negotiating a derogation with the European Union in relation to field-side margins. I ask the Minister to ensure that we use the fact that we have left the common agricultural policy to ensure that we have that flexibility and fleetness of foot when there is market failure or volatility—particularly when it is caused by extreme weather events, which we are likely to see more and more due to climate change. For example, my local farmers have suggested that the hay and wild flowers growing on field-side margins that have been designated as set-aside land could be cut and used or sold for forage, thereby reducing some of the real pressures that farmers in my constituency have felt.

The second thing that farmers in Eddisbury are concerned about is fair prices. We have all heard about mineral water in supermarkets being more expensive than a pint of milk. British farmers make fantastic produce, but they want to be paid a fair price for it. I welcome the proposals in the Bill for an obligation to promote a fair contractual relationship between farmers and the first purchasers of their products. That is a really important matter for my constituents. Finally, others have mentioned workforce planning: it is really important that we have a workforce that can help to manage those farms and take their success into the future.