Future of Farming: Somerset

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:02 pm on 18th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Morris James Morris Assistant Whip, The Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury 7:02 pm, 18th March 2020

I thank my hon. Friend Mr Liddell-Grainger for securing this important debate and for his contribution. He is a passionate advocate for his constituents.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strike a balance that works for our independent country—to let go of the railings of the sinking ship that is the EU’s highly bureaucratic common agricultural policy and its irrational system of area-based payments. I also recognise, as my hon. Friend said, that the farming sector currently faces huge challenges with the coronavirus crisis. Our environmental land management scheme will reward farmers for the vital environmental work that they do alongside feeding the nation, helping us to meet the targets that we will set through our Environment Bill so that we can fulfil our legally binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050 and leave the environment in a better state than we found it in.

We are working with farmers, foresters and land managers to make sure that we design a much better way of doing things that works as well on farms up and down the country as it does on paper. Forty trials are live in the first phase and a further 25 will follow in the second. Somerset is clearly part of that collaboration, and it will be critical to getting our policies absolutely right. The farming and wildlife advisory group in the south-west is helping us to consider an approach to paying farmers for their work on floodplain land and water management, and we will continue to refine our systems together over the coming months.

We are optimistic and we are aiming high, so that we create a coherent policy, designed for our farmers, which rewards them properly for their work to improve the environment, creating new habitats, reducing flooding and helping to tackle climate change, and enables them to become more profitable by investing in new equipment, adding value to their product and improving transparency in the supply chain. That is our approach—tackling the causes of poor profitability, not masking them with an arbitrary area-based subsidy, so that farms of every size and in every part of our country, including Somerset, have a chance to thrive. The smaller firms that my hon. Friend mentioned should feel equally optimistic about the opportunities this bespoke way of doing things will bring for their businesses.

Our food reflects who we are as a country. We care about animals hugely, including farm animals, and we value the high-quality, high-welfare, sustainably produced food and drink that we are fortunate to enjoy at home and that is recognised all around the world, including Somerset’s finest. My hon. Friend talked of some of the challenges faced by the producers, but it is fair to say that Somerset has been making cheddar since at least the 12th century, and what could be more quintessentially British than a hunk of west country farmhouse cheddar, washed down with a cold glass of Somerset cider brandy?

This Government will always back British farmers, who are some of the very best in the world, taking care of our landscapes and animals, all while feeding the nation, just as they have done for generation after generation. This is a time of opportunity, but I recognise the challenges for UK agriculture. We understand that these changes can be daunting, as well as presenting opportunity, and we are conscious that farmers need time to plan and adapt for their futures, and support to decide what is right for them and for their business. We will match 2019 levels in every year of this Parliament.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, our Agriculture Bill is making its way through Parliament, and our aim is that it will reach Royal Assent by the summer. This is of vital importance to the agriculture sector, in order to begin a fair, progressive, seven-year transition to a much better way of doing things in 2027.

My hon. Friend made several points in his remarks. On the Somerset Rivers Authority, I will write to him about the implications he described. He mentioned the badger cull, and I will talk to the Secretary of State about the points he raised about that and about the Sedgemoor auction centre, in the context of contingency planning for the coronavirus. He made some remarks about the challenges of upland farming. It is fair to say that the Government are confident that within the new scheme being outlined in the Agriculture Bill, upland farmers will stand to benefit considerably from the new arrangements that the Government are introducing in the Bill.

I would like to close by making this important point. Sustainable farming and food production can and, indeed, must go hand in hand. No one understands this better than our farmers right across the country. After all, the great outdoors is their office, day in and day out. After a hot summer and an incredibly wet winter, they are the first to feel the effects of climate change in our countryside, and they are hungry for change. This is our chance to do things differently and put our farmers, such as those in Somerset, at the very heart of our efforts to tackle the causes and consequences of climate change in a way that helps nature recover too. I hope that hon. Members will all support the ambitious Agriculture Bill currently making its way through this place, so that we can chart a new course for English agriculture for decades to come and a new way of doing things for the world to follow.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.