The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced significant new spending plans at the 2021 Budget in a bid to bring forward a new post-COVID economy. At the heart of this is a drive forward on the Government’s levelling-up agenda, with the Chancellor announcing increased spending across all departments by 3.8% and investment projects across the country worth billions of pounds. However, of concern is the rise in inflation, with September’s figure at 3.1%, and this likely to rise to an average of 4% next year.

Reaffirming the Government’s commitment to sustainable agriculture

While there was no mention of farming in the speech itself, the accompanying Budget and Spending Review publications reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and increasing carbon storage and sustainability, productivity and resilience.  The Government pledged to ‘seize the opportunity of the EU exit to increase the sustainability, productivity and resilience of the agriculture and food sectors’, by:

  • Maintaining total farm support in every nation of the UK worth a cumulative £3.7 billion a year;
  • Progressing the Agricultural Transition in England, including the roll out of Environmental Land Management schemes, to pay farmers for delivering climate and environmental benefits while producing the nation’s food; and
  • Scaling-up the National Capital and Ecosystems Assessment which will map the extent, condition, and biodiversity of England’s natural habitats, supported by £140 million funding.

More support needed for the rural economy

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which the CRT is a member of, responded to the Budget statement by highlighting what they described as ‘the lack of ambition’ for the countryside. With the rural economy 18% less productive than the national average, the CLA was disappointed by the Chancellor’s missed opportunity to provide it with a much-needed boost through investment in skills and infrastructure. The CLA are campaigning on behalf of their members for investment in a ‘rural powerhouse’, designed to unleash the potential of the countryside economy. This is particularly pertinent as the supporting documents revealed that where the Government had previously pledged to match the EU Structural Fund investment of £1.5 billion a year, this has now been reduced to £0.4 billion in 2022-23, with no specific allocations for rural areas.

Regenerative agriculture is on the Government’s radar

While it hasn’t yet featured in the Government’s Budget or Spending Review, regenerative agriculture is rising up the political agenda with a recent Westminster Hall debate focusing on ‘regenerative farming and climate change’. Anthony Mangall, Member of Parliament for Totnes, led this discussion and called on the Government to support and accept regenerative agriculture as a means of producing food while restoring the land. Mr Mangall defined regenerative farming as the culmination of five principles: firstly, covering soil surface, secondly not disturbing soil, thirdly keeping living roots underground, fourthly growing a diversity of crops, and finally bringing grazing animals back onto the land. He called on the Government to facilitate a transition to regenerative agriculture by encouraging knowledge sharing in the farming community, providing clarity on the direction of travel in agricultural policy, by ensuring that the decisions they make are farmer-led, and lastly by investing in training and education for the sector.

The Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Victoria Prentis MP attended the debate and responded to the comments. The Minister said that the Government’s sustainable farming incentive was intended to respond to many of these demands. She cited the local nature recovery strategies, introduced by Government, which are designed to facilitate collaborative working across clusters or groups of farms. They will also bring forward a soil health action plan, which will include details of healthy soil indicators and a methodology for, and basics of, a soil health monitoring scheme. The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture is also about to be launched.

The Minister concluded by underlining that the Government would do everything they could to ensure that truly sustainable food in the country is as local as possible.

The CRT’s view

The CRT’s mission is to support a living, working countryside, and to advocate for wildlife-friendly farming that reverses the decline in biodiversity. We welcome policies that help our hard-working farmers to achieve these objectives, for the benefit of all.

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