Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, EFRA secretary, George Eustice said that despite the scale of change, the schemes were part of “an evolution, not a revolution” which would give farmers the opportunity to adapt and decide the best course for their businesses.
Yet when asked by the audience if the focus on re-wilding, hedgerow regeneration and habitat restoration, together with trade deals favourable to major food exporting nations such as Australia and New Zealand, meant the UK risked sleepwalking into a food crisis in the same manner as it fallen into the current energy crisis, he denied that such an outcome was likely:
“Farming in England is moving away from the arbitrary land-based subsidies and top-down bureaucracy of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, towards schemes that recognise the work that farmers do as stewards of the natural environment,” said Eustice.
And he added that the UK government had committed to reviewing policy every three years to ensure that the direction of travel was not jeopardising profitable food production in the UK.
He said the two new environmental land management schemes would play an essential role in halting the decline in species, bringing soil under sustainable management and restoring up to 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat.
Answering further criticism that there was little support for food production, Eustice indicated that the marketplace should deliver a fair income for farmers’ produce while it was the government’s duty to help deliver on climate change and biodiversity goals.
However, the difference in approach being taken by the devolved nations became apparent at the conference - with Welsh farm minister Lesley Griffiths and Northern Ireland’s Edwin Poots revealing that their policies would have a closer focus on food production and food security.
And while Scotland’s rural affairs cabinet secretary, Mairi Gougeon was unable to attend the conference due to a prior engagement, the Scottish Government has already promised to maintain farm productivity.
Griffiths said that farming was at the centre of the rural economy in Wales and outlined a move towards more sustainable agriculture - while Poots said that in Northern Ireland planned to optimise production and encourage farmers to become involved in renewable energies, through measures such as harnessing methane production from cows.
The NI minister voiced criticism of the recent UK trade deals with Australia and New Zealand stating that cheaper imports which undercut UK farmers would simply see emissions offshored to other parts of the world.
However Poots backed Eustice’s views that British farmers should have access to crops produced using gene editing techniques, after the EFRA secretary said that despite the majority of consultation respondents being against the use of such technologies, the UK administration was set to continue relaxing the regulations.