Gove speech reaction – NPA welcomes vision but says delivery key

The NPA has welcome a speech by Defra Secretary Michael Gove during which he confirmed farm spending would be focused on public goods in the future.

Opening the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday, Mr Gove also promised to champion British food and farming, including ensuring Government departments source more British food.

There will be a transitional period, probably until 2024, during the ‘fundamentally flawed’ Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regime will be dismantled in favour of a new system that rewards public goods, the Defra Secretary revealed.

While he indicated these public goods will focus mainly on environmental payments, he said the Government should also invest in technology and skills alongside infrastructure, public access and rural resilience.

There could also be support for those who want to leave the industry, he added.

Mr Gove highlighted the trading opportunities Brexit will bring and reiterated his desire to maintain and enhance the UK’s environmental and welfare standards. He said it would be ‘foolish’ for the UK to lower these standards in any future trade deal.

Other notable points included:

  • Recognition that food production lies at the heart of almost all farming businesses. Under the Industrial Strategy there will be a new fund to transform food production from farm to fork
  • An acknowledgment that Defra and other Government departments had not been ‘the champion we need to be for British food and farming’ and a pledge to do better on public procurement
  • A promise to reduce bureaucracy in the way public support is administered to farmers
  • A promise to modernise certain processes, including updating export certificates and improving IT systems
  • A pledge to move to a more risk-based inspection regime and reduce duplication
  • The development of a scheme, separate to Red Tractor or LEAF, measuring how a farmer or food producer performs in areas such as soil health, control of pollution, contribution to water quality as well as animal welfare.
  • A suggestion that the Government will ‘intervene closer to home where there is market failure’ when, for example some powerful players in the food chain use the scale of their market presence to demand low prices from primary producers who are much smaller and dis-aggregated. Farming Minister George Eustice is looking at the issue now in the context of possible changes to the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

You can read Mr Gove’s full speech here

Industry response

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “Mr Gove has outlined a vision for UK farming outside the EU and we agree with many of its key elements, although the key, of course, will be in the delivery.”

“We welcome the development of a new food policy and the shift in farm spending towards innovation, technology and infrastructure. We believe this presents genuine opportunities for the pig sector as we continue to deliver high quality pig meat produced to standards that are illegal in the UK.

“We are also pleased to see the commitment for a more responsible approach to public procurement among Government departments. We have, however, heard this before, so we will be watching very closely how this policy unfolds.

“Similarly, commitments to reduce bureaucracy and streamline inspections will go down well in the pig industry – if they are delivered.

“We note Mr Gove’s comments on maintaining our animal welfare and environmental standards – and stress once again that it is critical to the future of our sector that future trade deals do not allow in cheaper imports produced to lower standards.

“We need to know more about a future labelling scheme – will that apply to both home and export markets and will the supply chain apply the same standards to imports?

“The NPA will continue to push for new powers for the Grocery Adjudicator – we need it to have real teeth to address poor practice across the supply chain.

“One of our biggest concerns, however, continues to be over future access to EU labour. Access to permanent, so-called ‘low-skilled’ labour is essential for the UK pig sector, and we are disappointed Mr Gove’s focus was once again on seasonal labour.

“The NPA will continue to lobby hard on behalf of the pig sector as the Government’s Brexit policy is developed.”

You can read Mr Gove’s full speech here

NFU President Meurig Raymond said Mr Gove’s speech was a positive signal for the farming industry, and that he looked forward to seeing the details on it.

“I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State talking about the need to invest in technology, skills and rural resilience – all of which he says are public goods,” he said.

“Michael Gove also spoke about the importance of delivering benefits for the environment, something that farmers already advocate and perform highly on. Mr Gove was absolutely right to recognise the vital contribution that uplands farmers have in maintaining their iconic landscape.

“Without the productive, resilient and profitable farm businesses across the country, we will not have the people to look after the natural environment.

“A transition period that allows time to prepare properly for the introduction of a new agricultural policy is also welcome, during which an assessment can be made of the impact of Brexit on UK farming – on trade in the raw ingredients farmers produce, on farm businesses’ access to a competent and reliable workforce, and on the regulatory environment in which they operate.

John Fishwick, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: “Delivering public goods should be at the heart of a new post Brexit agricultural policy, benefiting producers, consumers and wider society.

 “Today Mr Gove committed to investing in the public goods of the natural environment, technology and skills, infrastructure, public access and rural resilience. Yet any post Brexit agricultural policy must also support animal health and welfare as public goods, since these are the very reasons that we have our global reputation for agricultural produce and high standards.”

“Vets are integral to food production, from farm to fork, and so vets must also be an integral part of any policy development, review and implementation.”

Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley said: “The quality of British food and its high production standards are two of the industry’s core strengths. Red Tractor Assurance and its logo provide the perfect vehicle for communicating this message at home and abroad. We welcome Mr Gove’s praise of the Red Tractor scheme and look forward to maximising the opportunities that Brexit provides for our members.”

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.