Gove ‘acutely conscious’ of Brexit subsidy worries among ag sectors
Defra Secretary Michael Gove told the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference today that he was “acutely” aware that many farmers feared the future post-Brexit, especially with regards to subsidies.
Gove made the comments as he set about clarifying some of what the future could hold in terms of farm subsidies and added that future policy would reward many of the actions farmers were already carrying out.
He said: “I admire farmers as stewards of the countryside – as you put it to me, Meurig,” he told NFU president Meurig Raymond.
‘Vital public services’
“[They’re] the very first friends of the earth. I appreciate everything farmers do to keep our soils rich, our rivers clean, to provide habitats for wildlife and to help in the fight against climate change and broader environmental degradation. And I want to see farmers better rewarded for these vital public services.
But, farmers would not be in a position to provide these public goods – indeed we would not have the countryside we all cherish – without successful, productive, profitable farm businesses.
“Rural communities depend on profitable agricultural businesses to thrive.”
Gove admitted in his speech that he was “romantic” about the countryside, but added that preserving profitable farm businesses in rural communities is “just as much a public good as investment in anything I know”.
He said a strong countryside industry would have benefits for everyone, including health benefits for the population.
“If we get policy right for those who produce our food we can ensure sustainable and balanced growth across the UK.
“We can ensure the investment is there in the future to make not just the countryside, but the country as a whole, flourish; we can enhance our environment, provide rewarding employment for future generations, improve the physical health and well-being of the population and shape a better world for our children and grandchildren.”
‘Many smaller farmers fear the future’
Gove added that many rural beauty spots had been shaped by generations of farming and added that future agriculture policy would ensure this would continue to be the case.
He said: “I am acutely conscious that the changes which are coming to farming leave some sectors more worried than others.
And I am particularly aware that many smaller farmers, such as dairy farmers in areas like Devon or upland sheep farmers in Cumbria and Northumberland, fear that the future is particularly challenging for them. Margins are tight.
“Milk and lamb prices are far from generous. The risks to profitability of bovine TB or other forces beyond the farmers’ control add to stress. And the prospect of public support diminishing or disappearing makes many wonder how they can go on.
“I believe we have to ensure future methods of agricultural support recognise how critical it is to value the culture in agriculture; Devon and Somerset would not be as they are – with the countryside as beautiful as it is and communities as resilient as they are – without dairy farmers.”