Treasury announcement on agricultural spending welcomed by farmers’ leaders

Fields near Saxmundham in August.

Fields near Saxmundham in August. - Credit: Archant

A government announcement guaranteeing agricultural spending through to 2020 has been welcomed by farmers’ leaders.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said farmers had been given much-needed certainty in the short term after the Treasury’s decision to guarantee agricultural spending though to 2020.

This should mean that farmers can count on receiving the Basic Payment Scheme through to 2020 and that agri-environment schemes already in place are guaranteed through to their conclusion, it said.

Country Land and Business Association president Ross Murray said it would provide “a significant degree of reassurance” to farmers and other landowners across the country - but said clarity was needed around rural development policy and Countryside Stewardship.

The NFU said it is working with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to understand the position of those farmers applying for Countryside Stewardship this September.

The NFU said it’s good to hear that other rural development grants such as Leader offered before the Autumn Statement will also be honoured.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said he is extremely pleased to hear the news officially after the NFU’s discussions with Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom, her department and the Treasury in the past three weeks. Mr Raymond said this certainty in the short term now allows time for the industry and Defra to formulate a domestic agricultural policy that is fit for purpose.

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Mr Raymond said the announcement was positive for farmers.

“I hope that this short-term certainty will help to deliver longer-term confidence and this is exactly what farm businesses need now,” he said.

“We’ve been emphasising to the Government at all levels that the success of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector - food and drink–worth £108 billion to the UK economy, is underpinned by the farming sector. With the agricultural budget now retained and agri-environment agreements and BPS payments now honoured, I am delighted that the Prime Minister and DEFRA have understood the importance of farming and food production.”

Mr Murraay said: “There are of course many more decisions that now need to be made, not least a commitment that there will be a fully funded, world-leading domestic Food, Farming and Environment Policy in place ready to succeed the current system in place ready for 2021.”

The Treasury statement said “all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before the Autumn Statement will be fully funded”, but the CLA said it is seeking clarification on the implications of this decision for applications under way and yet to be fully agreed.

It points out that applications for funding this year’s Countryside Stewardship programme are being made now to Natural England with a deadline of end of September.

It is not clear that there is sufficient time for applications received by then will be processed and in place by the end of November, when the Autumn Financial Statement takes place, it says.

“EU funded schemes are vitally important to driving investment in our rural economy and delivering environmental benefits. There is no justification not to continue with these schemes up until the UK leaves the EU,” said Mr Murray.

“The decision suggests that applications made under this year’s Countryside Stewardship scheme for example are likely to be considered and agreements will be funded, but it’s not wholly clear. There is no clarity on whether there will be a programme in 2017 and 2018. We will press for a further statement that properly clarifies the situation.

“In the meantime we encourage members to continue to make applications to take part in rural development programme schemes, especially Countryside Stewardship. Important work such as schemes that fund management of wildlife habitats and planting hedgerows must continue.”