The UK Government needs to allocate a budget of at least £4bn a year for farmers in England if the sector is to deliver meaningful improvements to the environment, CLA President Victoria Vyvyan said to delegates at the 2023 CLA Rural Business Conference.
At the CLA’s flagship conference in London, Victoria called on the government and Defra Secretary Steve Barclay MP to go further and increase its budget to at least £4bn a year. 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. She also called on the Welsh Government to increase its budget to £1bn a year.
In her opening address, Victoria said that all farmers, including the next generation, need to have confidence that the UK Government will back their ambitions for the environment, nature and food production over the long term.
She said: “There’s concern and confusion but there’s also excitement in the farming sector. Things are changing, and for the next generation that means opportunity.
“I want the current Secretary of State and the Farming Minister to make absolutely sure that there isn’t any money left in the pot next year – we need every single penny of that money.
“We need an undertaking that Defra ministers will go in to bat for an agriculture budget north of £4bn a year in England for the next parliament.
“With this guarantee, businesses young and old can go to the bank with proof of affordability to finance growth, improve margins and confirm a future.”
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.
She said: "The CLA, with our feet in the soil and our eyes resolutely set on the future, will be able to find solutions to our most pressing problems."
Defra Secretary announces rural funding
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 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.
This includes an initial £30m on offer in the second round of the Improving Farming Productivity Grant, providing capital grants of £25,000 - £500,000 towards robotic and automatic equipment. For the first time, it will also fund grants of between £15,000 and £100,000 towards solar equipment, which can be fitted on rooftops and float on irrigation reservoirs, helping increase energy resilience and take-up of renewable energy generation on farms.
Almost £8m will also be available in the third round of the Large R&D Partnership, and a further £850,000 through the Research Starter Round 4 competition to identify and accelerate new agricultural solutions, funding growers or foresters who have early-stage ideas.
He said: "I know in representing rural communities the CLA brings over 100 years of experience, collective expertise, the sort of first-hand knowledge you don’t acquire behind a Whitehall desk. And I want to listen and learn from that experience as we work together to exercise the greater freedom that we have in setting policy for rural areas.
“I am delighted to champion the countryside and the rural way of life. I want to empower more and burden less when it comes to running your businesses and taking care of the land.
“The importance of farming isn’t just about its economic value, it’s at the heart of meeting our ambitions in terms of targets to tackle climate change, and in terms of making and securing nature and how it can thrive.
“We are taking action on the things that matter to you.
“We are forging ahead with our new farming schemes. In everything we do, our aim is back a profitable and sustainable food and farming sector that supports all that you do, now and for future generations."
Labour's rural vision
The Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Reed MP, also gave his first big speech since taking on the role in September, outlining 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".
Steve's 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.
There was also reference to greater devolution for rural people, allowing those who use the local services to have more influence, and harsh penalties for those who commit rural crimes such as fly-tipping, with an emphasis on making those who make the mess clean it up.
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.