Last month’s general election result has finally brought clarity and direction, following three very difficult years. The UK will leave the EU at the end of this month and there will be an orderly Brexit with an implementation period running until the end of this year. There will be no extension and we will not be part of the customs union, nor the single market, but we will seek a free-trade agreement.
We now have the freedom to press ahead with our plans to develop a new agriculture policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century and delivers for British farmers and the environment.
The Agriculture Bill has returned this week for the second time. As before, we seek to replace the bureaucratic shambles that is the Common Agricultural Policy with something that has coherence.
Rather than arbitrary area-based payments, where land ownership and tenure is subsidised, we will instead direct future funding to support activities and interventions that deliver for our environment and enhance animal welfare.
We want a package of incentives to support sustainable farming practices and the bill creates the powers to do this.
We recognise that Basic Payment Scheme payments currently make up a significant proportion of net farm income. However, rather than maintain a system that just masks poor profitability, the ambition behind our Agriculture Bill is to tackle the causes of that poor profitability.
So, the bill creates the power to make grants available to deliver a prosperous future for farming by helping farmers invest in new technology and equipment to reduce costs.
There is a section in the bill to improve transparency and fairness in the supply chain, so that farmers stop being price takers and start getting a fairer share of the cake.
Also, we want to make it easier for farmers to retire with dignity and simultaneously help new entrants get access to land.
I grew up on a farm and spent a decade working in the industry. Domestic food production is crucial and plays a vital role in contributing to our nation’s food security.
The government takes this very seriously, so the revised bill creates a duty to review food security every five years and a duty to consider the production of food when devising policy.
I also know that farming is a risky business and there will always be circumstances where the government must act and intervene in a crisis to support farmers or stabilise markets. The bill makes provision for that too.
Finally, I know that change must be delivered in an orderly and progressive way. It won’t happen overnight. Our bill envisages a seven-year transition period from the old legacy system to the future policy, starting next year.
Our ambition is to use our new-found freedom to embark on a journey to a better future for farming. We want to innovate and develop the policies of the future.
A decade from now, I want the rest of the world to be coming to the UK to see how it is done, and I know we have some of the best farmers in the world who can do just that.