Environment Secretary Michael Gove attracted a huge crowd to the CLA’s Berkshire show stand, laying out how the recently-unveiled Agriculture Bill could affect farmers and landowners in the South East.
The CLA’s marquee was standing-room only on Saturday, when Mr Gove gave his first major public speech on the Bill.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was also grilled by members from across the region in a lively Q&A session, on topics including rights of way, fly-tipping, food production, hedging and firearms licensing.
He told the audience that when working on the Bill, his department received an “enormous amount of advice” from the CLA and its members.
On the second day of the show, the CLA stand was visited by Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary at Defra, 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.”
The Bill sets the framework for Defra’s future Environmental Land Management policy. It details how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
It also set out the time period of transition to the new system, which is expected to be seven years.
Mr Edwards said: “We support the Government’s ambition for a future where farming and food production go hand in hand with a healthy environment.
“The CLA has long promoted a contractual model for the delivery of public goods, as an alternative to direct payments, through our Land Management Contract.”
Mr Edwards welcomed the Government’s recognition of the full range of public benefits that farmers and land managers can deliver. He added: “The Government has provided some certainty on transition. This is crucial for businesses to enable them to start planning for the future. Seven years should be sufficient for this.
“Initial proposals to cap payments for larger farm businesses would have had a catastrophic effect. Proposals to reduce payments in manageable increments, spread across the farming industry, will enable businesses to avoid the risk of rapid change with no time to prepare. The Government must now ensure that further cuts align with the introduction of the new environmental land management contracts to avoid any cliff edges for farm businesses.”
CLA South East represents thousands of landowners, farmers and rural businesses in Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight.