COWS GRAZING NEW 1

Defra’s dithering adding to farm stress, says MP

MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has condemned the lack of clarity over future Government farming policies, warning it was placing thousands of farmers under ‘intolerable’ strain.

He says Defra – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – had failed utterly to appreciate the importance of forward planning in agriculture and instead seemed to be treating food production as something that could be turned off and on like a tap.

As a result of leaving the EU UK farmers are set to lose £3.5 billion annually in direct support payments – which have been allocated purely on the basis of land ownership.

These will be gradually reduced and replaced with schemes that will reward them for delivering environmental improvements.

Not enough detail

But Mr Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, believes not enough detail of the scope of the new policy or the payment levels had been released to enable farmers to plan for the future.

He said: “Those proposed payments that have been revealed so far have prompted a lot of farmers to decide they simply aren’t worth applying for.

“But a full year after leaving the EU Defra still hasn’t provided complete information as to how one of our most important economic sectors is going to be supported.”

Thousands of farms have only been theoretically profitable thanks to the annual injection of EU cash into the balance sheet. And there are widespread fears than less-than-adequate support under the Government’s own policy structure could lead to widespread business failures.

Utterly unacceptable

But, echoing a damning report from the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Liddell-Grainger believes Defra’s progress on spelling out the new framework was utterly unacceptable.

He said: “Defra had five years from the referendum decision to draw up new policies, consult with farmers and refine them into something broadly acceptable yet here we are more than a year after we actually left the EU with dribs and drabs of policy being trickled out with the ink still wet.

“The Secretary of State comes from a farming background and he must know full well that farming operations cannot be turned on and off like a tap. They have to be planned one, two, or even three years ahead.

“Yet he has left thousands of farmers trying to organise planting programmes and schedule other operations without knowing whether they will be in a position to carry them out – or indeed still in business.

Undervalued

“Sadly this is typical of how Defra has consistently undervalued farmers and their contributions not merely to the national diet but to the quality of our superb landscapes.

“Given all the uncertainties that always bedevil farming – the weather, price movements, uncontrollable input costs – agriculture is already one of the most stressful of all occupations, hence the shockingly high number of suicides recorded.*

“Defra’s appalling tardiness in setting out its blueprint for the future of farming in this country is merely creating further, intolerable stress – and that is something no farmer needs at the moment.”

*133 people in UK farming and the associated agricultural trades took their own lives in 2019-20

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