Normally around this time of year, I and many other local people would be attending the Royal Cornwall Show. Sadly this year, due to the pandemic it has been cancelled. I have many childhood memories of the Royal Cornwall show. When I was growing up my father was one of the many volunteer stewards who gave up his time each year to make the event possible so it was a shame we were all unable to attend this year.
However, while the Royal Cornwall show was sadly cancelled, It was great to return to the Devon County Show last week. We’ve learnt a lot from Zoom, but I’m glad to be rid of it. Farming is real, it happens outdoors, and demonstration projects that you can see in action on the ground are so important.
It is an exciting time for agriculture here in the South West. We are developing our future agricultural policy and in doing so we want to support the choices that individual farm enterprises make. That is why we have already announced plans for an exit scheme to help farmers who want to leave the industry to do so, and it is why we are developing new grants to support farmers who want to invest in their business, reduce their costs and improve their profitability.
Last week, we published details of the first options under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will open to farmers in spring next year. We’ve decided to start with soil health since that is where everything connected with successful farming starts. Enhancing the natural health and fertility of our soils is one of the most important things we can do to start making our farming more profitable and sustainable.
In recent years, we’ve seen a renewed interest in ancient knowledge - the knowledge around what makes healthy, fertile soil. Farmers instinctively understand this - we know that soil is more than a growing medium, we know that soils are alive, and farmers know that the extent to which they have humus and organic matters in the soil is key to plant health.
Through our soils standards under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, we could save as much as 60,000 tonnes of CO2 each year from 2023 to 2027, increasing to 800,000 tonnes per year by 2037. Our initial sustainable farming incentive offer will also include a Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard designed to help us assess the condition of the moorlands and work out how best to invest in their restoration through sustainable farming practices.
To incentivise a high take up of the new scheme, we are adopting a new approach to payments that is more generous than the old EU schemes so we can get the levels of uptake we need to achieve our environmental goals. We have also reviewed payments in Countryside Stewardship so that we can increase the number of farmers providing environmental outcomes as we move towards the rollout of our new offers.
I have said many times that we want the move from the old system to the new to be an evolution, not a revolution. We recognise the dependency on area payments that the old EU schemes created and the distortions it caused on land rents and input costs, so we will unwind those distortions with care over seven years. However, it is also my hope that farmers who embrace these new schemes will discover that healthy soils and healthy livestock lead to higher profitability.