Leadsom pledge to cut red tape welcomed, but east’s farmers call for more certainty

Andrea Leadsom.

Andrea Leadsom. - Credit: PA

East Anglia’s farmers’ leaders have welcomed government plans to cut red tape but called for greater certainty post 2020 after a speech by Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom this week.

Delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference 2017.

Delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference 2017. - Credit: Archant

East Anglia’s farmers’ leaders have welcomed government plans to cut red tape but called for greater certainty post 2020 after a speech by Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom this week.

Mrs Leadsom told the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday that the country’s 40,000 farmers should be allowed to grow the crops they want, the three-crop rule should be dropped, and indicated complicated regulations to protect the environment could also be relaxed.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) regional director Robert Sheasby said any efforts to reduce the burden of red tape facing its members’ businesses in East Anglia were welcome.

“Members will be particularly pleased to see the back of the three crop rule and further reductions in the number of government inspections on farms,” he said.

Envrironment secretary Andrea Leadsom addresses the Oxford Farming Conference 2017.

Envrironment secretary Andrea Leadsom addresses the Oxford Farming Conference 2017. - Credit: Archant


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“We also welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to work with the industry to secure the best possible deal for British farmers after Brexit.

“But, as she acknowledges, farmers make long-term business decisions and, at the moment, many of those investment decisions are on hold because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

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“What we are yet to hear is the Government’s thoughts on how farming should be supported after 2020, our future trading relationship with the EU, and how we will meet the shortfall in EU workers available to work on British farms.

“After growing uncertainty last year, it’s vital that the Government provides greater certainty in 2017 so farm businesses can face the future with confidence.”

Envrironment secretary Andrea Leadsom addresses the Oxford Farming Conference 2017.

Envrironment secretary Andrea Leadsom addresses the Oxford Farming Conference 2017. - Credit: Archant

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East rural surveyor Tim Woodward said Mrs Leadsom had a “vital role” to play in the coming weeks and months in championing the major contribution made by food and farming to the UK economy.

Agriculture and food production were of “fundamental importance” to the economy of the whole of the East of England and the CLA represented 6,500 members across the region, he said.

“Like Mrs Leadsom, the CLA views Brexit as an opportunity to redesign the UK’s food, farming and agricultural policies to achieve increased productivity and improved environmental benefits, provided of course that any new policies are fully-funded,” he said.

“We also welcome Andrea Leadsom’s commitment to reduce bureaucracy and red tape, much of which wastes the time and money of our members, who are keen to be able to get on with the efficient running of their farms and businesses.

“Our members will also be pleased to hear that she has committed herself to making sure that every outstanding Basic Payment claim is paid, and that more funding is to be made available for flood defences, a major concern to farmers and landowners in the East of England.”

However, while the Government has pledged to continue to provide direct payments to farmers up to 2020, there is growing debate about what will happen in the long term to the financial support landowners currently receive under the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Mrs Leadsom said dealing with “red tape” and farm inspections is estimated to cost £5m a year to the industry and takes up 300,000 hours.

“For too long, a bureaucratic system which tries to meet the needs of 28 countries has held farmers back.

“But now, leaving the EU means we can focus on what works best for the United Kingdom.

“By cutting the red tape that comes out of Brussels, we will free our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food whilst upholding our high standards for plant and animal health and welfare.”

The Government is consulting farmers later this year on areas of regulation they would like to see reformed.

Mrs Leadsom has previously suggested it would be possible to secure a free trade agreement with Brussels in a short amount of time because UK regulations were aligned with the EU’s, though she has also said Brexit is an opportunity to change rules in areas such as farming.

But Baroness Kate Parminter, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pointed out that DEFRA estimates have shown almost one in five farms in the East of England, or around 3,400 in total, would not break even without current levels of payments they receive under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

The speech was “a unique chance” to reassure East Anglian farmers that their financial futures will be protected in the light of Brexit, and most farmers were more concerned about the support they would receive, than red tape.

“But while she offered warm words about cutting red tape, she failed to give any details on the biggest questions facing farmers, including farming subsidies and access to the single market,” she said.

“Most experts reckon leaving the single market will hit farming exports. Glib suggestions that we can find new markets in China doesn’t really cut it when talking about perishable products. Many farms in East Anglia are already struggling financially. It’s time for the Government to give farmers certainty.”

She added: “As a prominent Leave campaigner, Andrea Leadsom told farmers repeatedly that the UK would give them the same subsidies - for now. But worryingly, she has also argued in the past that farming subsidies should be abolished. We need to know where she stands, and where farmers will stand in three years when Leadsom’s guarantee runs out.

Leaving the Single Market would put UK farming exports at risk, she warned.

“The food, drink and agricultural sector in Norfolk and Suffolk alone is worth £3.5bn, employing 120,000 people. Thousands of tonnes of Suffolk pork is exported to Europe. In total 130,000 tonnes of British pork produce went to European countries in 2015,” she said. “Farmers could face crippling tariffs as high as 50% on beef and 30% on lamb. That would mean livelihoods lost in rural communities and our proud food exporting industry permanently damaged. Even if trade deals eventually open up new markets further afield, and that’s a big “if” as agriculture is often one of the biggest sticking points in trade negotiations, we can’t ignore the world’s largest market sitting on our doorstep.”

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