Sat, 22 Sept 2018
ENVIRONMENT Secretary Michael Gove gave his first major public speech on the newly-published Agriculture Bill at the county show.
There was standing-room only in the CLA marquee as Mr Gove explained how the bill could affect farmers and landowners post-Brexit.
The bill, announced on September 12, represents the biggest overhaul of UK farm policy since the end of the Second World War.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was also grilled by members in a lively Q&A session, on topics including rights of way, fly-tipping and food production – and even West Berkshire Council's £50 green bin charge.
During his talk, he claimed that young people were growing up “divorced” from an understanding of the countryside.
He said: “One of the things about food production overall and the food market is that it is changing dramatically.
“But it is changing in a way where more and more people want to know about the provenance of what they eat, and being able to demonstrate from every stage, from farm to fork, the quality of what we produce provides us collectively as a nation and individually as farmers and land managers with a marketing edge.”
He added: “One of the things that I lament is the fact that, even though we are a nation that appreciates our countryside and our environment, there are young people growing up increasingly divorced from an understanding of food production and reality of our countryside and an appreciation of its beauty, but also sometimes the tough circumstances that people who live and work there face.
“Ending that increasing polarisation between urban and rural is I think essential to ensuring the needs of rural businesses and rural people are better understood.
“There is a specific benefit in terms of physical and mental health as well if we get more people into the countryside and appreciating everything that it has to offer.”
The Government says the major post-Brexit policy will invest in the environment and “take back control for farmers” after almost 50 years under EU rules.
The 62-page document sets out plans to abolish direct payments to farmers in England and replace them with a new system of public money for public goods.
It will get rid of farm subsidies and introduce a new system of payments rewarding farmers who undertake environmental measures rather than those who produce food.
However, critics claim it ignores food production and will be damaging for farmers and fall short of the support needed for the sector.
The Government says the subsidy system of direct payments is ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed.
It claims these payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits.
Another audience member claimed there was a direct correlation between the introduction of landfill tax and an increase in fly-tipping, before moving on to West Berkshire Council’s bin charge.
He said: “West Berkshire Council, which is our local council here, has introduced a scheme of charging for emptying green wheelie bins of garden waste.
“Many people will regard that charge as being yet another tax to be evaded and the increase in fly-tipping is going to be inevitable.
“Can I ask what you propose to do about this?”
Mr Gove acknowledged that “fly-tipping, waste crime overall, is one of the biggest scourges that the countryside faces”.
He added he would be announcing a series of recommendations later this autumn to change some of the powers that the Environment Agency, police and others have and also introduce tougher penalties for waste crime.
Speaking exclusively to the Newbury Weekly News prior to his talk, Mr Gove said: “It is my first time attending the Royal County of Berkshire Show.
“I came at the suggestion of [Newbury MP] Richard [Benyon], who, as well as being a brilliant local MP, is also one of the most knowledgeable in Parliament about agriculture.
“He advised me that I would receive a warm welcome and get the chance to speak to farmers about the bill and make sure we are getting everything right and they have all the information they need to ensure quality food ends up on our plate.
On the second day of the show, the CLA stand was visited by Defra Permanent Secretary Clare Moriarty, who also took questions from members.
CLA South East regional director Robin Edwards said: “We were delighted to host both of our guests, especially so soon after the unveiling of the Bill.
“A packed audience heard Mr Gove explain what the Bill would mean in reality, and the chance to pose questions after his talk was very useful.
“We support the Government’s ambition for a future where farming and food production go hand in hand with a healthy environment.”
CLA South East represents thousands of landowners, farmers and rural businesses in Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight.