It was a pleasure to see so many members from the East region make the trip to our annual national conference in London last week. The occasion is an important date for the CLA as it is an opportunity for our members to engage with senior politicians and hear their visions for the rural economy.
The CLA used the platform to call on Defra ministers to support agriculture with a £4bn a year budget to give farmers and the next generation confidence that the government will back their ambitions.
The current government is committed to spending an average of £2.4bn a year on the farming budget in England across this Parliament and has spent less than that in each of the last two years. It needs to spend at least £2.7bn this year to hit its target.
In her opening address, CLA President Victoria Vyvyan said that all farmers need to have confidence that the UK Government will back their ambitions for the environment, nature and food production over the long term. Victoria outlined how profitable farming can deliver for people and the planet because it is in the very nature of land managers to deliver solutions.
In his first speech as Defra Secretary of State, Steve Barclay MP stressed that the government will always back British farmers and highlighted that farming is a key part of the £127bn food sector.
He said that Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI) funding would not be capped. He announced a third round of the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund of up to £100,000 for 50 projects totalling £5m in 2024/25 to support farmers and rural businesses. He also announced £45m to fund innovation projects and solar, robotic and automated equipment.
During his speech, the Secretary of State said: "The CLA brings over 100 years of experience, collective expertise, the sort of first-hand knowledge you don’t acquire behind a Whitehall desk.” He added that he wanted to
listen and learn from that experience.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Reed MP was also in attendance at the conference and outlined Labour's vision for rural affairs if they were elected at the next General Election.
Steve Reed said the party recognised that "people who live in the countryside know what's best for the countryside". His speech was wide-ranging, and he said the party aimed to reduce barriers within the rural economy by expanding access to the National Grid, speeding up the planning system and replacing business rates with a fairer system.
When answering a question from CLA President Victoria Vyvyan, Steve categorically ruled out the Labour party removing Agricultural Property Relief (APR) from farm businesses as was previously rumoured in September by the shadow chancellor.
The CLA exists to champion, protect and enhance the rural economy, environment and way of life. We do this so our members can feed the nation, create jobs and prosperity, invest in communities and protect the environment for future generations. Our engagement with politicians throughout the year is an important part in ensuring our members’ voices are heard.