FWAG SouthWest response to the Secretary of State for Agriculture’s Speech at the Oxford Farming Conference 2018

The proposals sketched out in Michael Gove’s “Farming for the next generation” speech at the Oxford Farming Conference last week are welcomed by FWAG SouthWest, as they have been by many other conservation groups and farming representatives.

Many of the themes of the speech reflect the current trend of thinking, that payments to farmers in the future should be based on the delivery of public goods, such as wildlife conservation, flood mitigation measures, improved soil health and sustainable food production, rather than predominantly area based payments.

And, of course, Michael Gove’s sensible approach to reducing bureaucracy and streamlining inspection services is welcomed by all.

Mr Gove has made it clear that we will not “fall off a cliff edge” as we start to formally leave the EU. Transition arrangements will be in place to help farm businesses adjust to his new proposals.

On top of the Government’s proposed 2 years “implementation period” that they wish to secure with the EU, Mr Gove has proposed a further “transition period” for farmers to adjust to a new way of receiving subsidy payments. The transition period duration will be subject to consultation with stakeholder groups.

During the transition period farmers will receive a guaranteed income from BPS, although the most significant BPS payments to larger landowners will be capped or placed on a sliding scale. At this stage it appears that it will be made simpler to adhere to the regulations to get your BPS payment, once the implementation period has ended and the transition phase has begun.

Following lobbying from FWAG and other conservation organisations, it was also good to see Mr Gove confirm that farmers entering agri-environment schemes now would not be at a disadvantage to those who enter future schemes. This gives farmers the confidence to take advantage of the current opportunities that Countryside Stewardship presents, without fear of losing out in the future.

The Shape of Things to Come
The Secretary of State’s speech clearly sets out his stall, that farm efficiency, improved soil health and enhancing our natural environment will be the key drivers to future payment schemes and we will be adapting to these changes with our farmers in the coming years.

Following the remarkable success that farmer groups have enjoyed across England under the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund, Mr Gove’s proposals to continue to support this work are very encouraging. FWAG SouthWest are involved in or directly manage over ten of these groups in the south west and the success of these farmer-led groups are a constant reminder that these initiatives are an excellent way to drive and deliver environmental improvement.

Known Unknowns
There is still a great deal we don’t know about the future of grant based payments in England after the transition phase, not least how these initiatives will be resourced and if the 25 Year Plan for Agriculture will provide farmers with further support mechanisms.

Michael Gove has indicated a “Command Paper” will be available from Spring 2018, setting out further details on his proposals and we look forward to seeing how some of his proposals will be implemented.

A transcript of the speech, as it was delivered at the OFC on the 4th January, can be found here