The NFU has rejected calls by the National Trust that post-Brexit farm subsidies should only be paid out to farmers managing land in a “nature-friendly way” and warned food must play a central role in the UK’s future agriculture policy.
Responding today, to calls by National Trust director general Dame Helen Ghosh for a radical post-Brexit overhaul of the UK’s £3.1bn annual Common Agriculture Policy subsidy, NFU president Meurig Raymond warned that safeguarding food production would be “vital” in ensuring the UK’s food security after leaving the EU.
The National Trust has called on the government to put the recovery and future resilience of the natural environment at the heart of the funding system that will replace the CAP, adding it was essential to reverse “decades of damage to the countryside and the headlong decline of species”.
It said the need for future payments to “deliver public benefit beyond food production” would be crucial, while Brexit provided an opportunity to reset the entire system for subsidising the farming industry, and claimed some 60% of species were in decline partly due to intensive farming methods.
“Unless we make different choices, we will leave an environment that is less productive, less rich and less beautiful than that which we inherited,” said Ghosh. “Taxpayers should only pay public subsidy to farmers in return for things that the market won’t pay for but are valued and needed by the public.”
But in response, Raymond said the National Trust’s perception of a “damaged countryside” was one that “neither I nor most farmers, or visitors to the countryside, will recognise”.
Farmers had planted or restored 30,000km of hedgerows and had increased the number of nectar and pollen-rich areas by 134% during the past two years, Raymond added, and took their responsibility as custodians of the countryside seriously.
“In this debate we must not forget that food production is vital. We should not be contemplating doing anything which will undermine British farming’s competitiveness or its ability to produce food. To do so would risk exporting food production out of Britain and for Britain to be a nation which relies even further on imports to feed itself,” he said.
“In our view, food security should be considered to be a legitimate political goal and public good. British farmers are proud of the high standards of production, traceability of the food they produce and high animal welfare,” Raymond added.
“All our survey work shows that the British public wants to buy more British food and, interestingly, survey work also shows the British public believes farmers play a beneficial role in improving the environment at the same time.”
Ghosh suggested farmers were key partners in finding solutions, but “this is too important to leave to governments and farmers to sort out between themselves”.