Today, 21 July 2016, I attended the South West Rural Farming Network conference in Taunton, which was supported by the NFU and Chaired by David Fursdon.
Presentations were made by Dr Andrea Graham, Head of policy Services NFU, Simon Hooton, Ash Futures Ltd, Chris Head, Executive Director WERN and Andrew Robinson, Deputy Director Rural Development Programme Policy Team DEFRA.
DEFRA’s Andrew Robinson re-iterated that, for now, there was still a “Business as usual” approach to Countryside Stewardship and the wider RDPE programme. We will remain in the EU until such time as negotiations are completed following Article 50 having been invoked. Assuming this will take the maximum of two years, and the Prime Minister invokes Article 50 in early 2017, as she indicated in yesterday’s PM Questions, we should remain in Europe into 2019.
It was reassuring that DEFRA and the Treasury have already been meeting to assess the level of financial commitment to farmers for multi-year Countryside Stewardship / ELS / HLS that expire after the Article 50 two year negotiating period. No conclusions have been made yet about whether the Treasury will assume the financial responsibilities of agreements that extend beyond this time, so we were advised to be patient and await announcements.
Asked if there was a “Roadmap” yet to working on a new British Agricultural policy, Andrew Robinson said that it was too early to give any kind of timetable or plan and that new ministers would need to “bed in” before this could be released.
Horse before the Cart?
It is becoming increasingly clear that any agri-environment schemes in the future will be complexly linked with many other strands of policy, especially the negotiations around trade deals. If we remain in the single market in some capacity we will still be required to adhere to policies such as the Water Framework Directive, which has influenced some aspects of agri-environment schemes in recent years. It could well be that we will need to wait for international trade negotiations to begin before we see the shape of future agri-environment schemes.
Are DEFRA resourced for the changes ahead?
Andrew Robinson reassured the delegates that they were on a significant recruitment drive within Whitehall and that they were reallocating resources internally to ensure that the DEFRA had the capacity to handle the development of new policy and our EU exit strategy.
Applying for Countryside Stewardship in 2016?
Our advice remains that if you were thinking about applying for Countryside Stewardship in 2016 that you should continue with your application. We are still running free Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier one to one advice clinics on behalf of Natural England throughout the South West region and this is a good opportunity for you to build a robust application at low cost. Please call us on 01823 663074 if you wish to book an appointment.
Gary Rumbold – General Manager