When the House of Commons returns after the party conferences, one of the first issues to be debated by MPs will be the future of farming and environmental support post-Brexit, when the Agriculture Bill has its second reading.
This will herald significant adaptation for many of our food producers and I am keen to hear views of local farmers and others who will be affected. So I have arranged a meeting with South Shropshire NFU branches on Monday 8th October.
This will be a good opportunity to discuss both the challenges the sector faces and the opportunities we can grasp as we leave the EU. If you would like to attend, please get in touch with your local NFU branch who will be able to give further details.
I met Secretary of State Michael Gove and his ministerial team before the House of Commons rose, and am pleased Farming Minister George Eustice came to Shrewsbury the day after the draft Bill was published, to explain what the Bill intends to achieve. What is clear from the Ministerial team at Defra is that once we leave the Common Agricultural Policy, which has dictated the priorities for our farming at a European level for almost fifty years, we have the opportunity to place greater emphasis on farming for the public good.
The Bill would allow public money to be directed towards enriching wildlife habitats, preventing flooding, improving the quality of air, soil and water, raising standards of animal welfare, and planting trees to help manage and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Naturally this could mean major change for most farmers. So I am pleased there will be a 7-year agricultural transition, from 2021 to 2027, during which Direct Payments will be gradually phased down and the new system introduced. This should help farmers plan for change.
There are some exciting provisions in the Bill, which would give farmers more freedom to grow and diversify their business, with less bureaucracy. The old CAP system had become skewed, cumbersome and too often focussed on European policy challenges rather than effective public good. This led to payments being skewed towards landholdings, not linked to productivity nor specific public benefits.
So there is a real opportunity to bring meaningful reforms to the farming sector as we leave the EU, and I am determined the government get it right. As a farmer myself, I am a realist about what is required to maintain our landscapes and food security.
In order to help shape this new Bill so that we also maintain a thriving food and farming sector here in Shropshire, I look forward to getting the views of other local farmers before we start debating the Bill.