Gove must put the needs of production agriculture first as he plans for the future

Organisations, such as the National Sheep Association, seem to think that keeping Michael Gove MP as Secretary of State at DEFRA is a good thing. For the record, I would disagree entirely.

The leadership that he has given the farming sector over the past two years has been characterised by a distinct bias towards environmental protection and conservation with production agriculture coming a poor third.

All this talk of farming having to deliver for the public good overlooks the core objective that confronts every government: How does it feed its people?

Who knows how the final Brexit negotiations will pan out? All we do know is that the entire process will create a period of political and economic uncertainty for the UK as a whole.

Meanwhile, farmers must be given some certainty regarding their future. Most sectors operate around production cycles that take at least three years to complete.

There has been much talk about the proposed white paper for agriculture. Let’s hope the document contains some realistic food production targets.

There is tremendous potential to increase the scope of agriculture in all the regions making up the UK. Let’s hope that Whitehall recognises this reality in its future deliberations.

The publication this week of a future strategy paper for agriculture by the Welsh Government contains proposals that reflect most of the principles espoused by the likes of Michael Gove over the past two years.

In other words, the support package on offer reflects a further greening of the farming sector with the production element of the equation focused on the provision of capital grants schemes, which will enhance efficiency levels.

All of this seems to overlook the very basic fact that suckler and sheep farmers need continuing access to meaningful direct payments if they are to survive.

It is the current Basic Payment Scheme that it is keeping these producers in business.

The Government’s continuing desire to improve environmental and conservation-related standards also overlooks the fact that generations of farmers created the countryside that we all cherish today. 

In many ways, the beauty of our hill areas epitomises the work put in by farmers over many years in order to create the countryside of today. However, all of this splendour was actually created – for the most part – by grazing cattle and sheep.

And if they are not around to continue on this great work, vast swathes of the countryside will become derelict. Surely, this is a scenario, which no one would like to see unfolding.