Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
Q I represent a rural constituency with a lot of dairy and arable, and some of the biggest fruit producers in the west midlands. Quite a lot of farmers have said to me that they are currently enrolled in things like countryside stewardship schemes, and they are going to transition over. Caroline, you mentioned the ELMS scheme. Does this Bill do enough to help them transition over to the new schemes? Are we doing enough to support farmers in the longer term? For example, I have people signing county farm tenancy agreements, which are for 10 years, but we have guaranteed payment for only five years over this parliamentary term. Are we doing enough to support them in the longer term?
Martin Lines: We need guaranteed long-term funding or the ambition to deliver it. On a five-year rolling plan, I am planning eight or 10-year rotations in farm planning. If you are taking on tenancies for longer than that, the business risk is huge. It is about that long-term development. In the transition that we are going to have from one system to the other, we need to be clear and transparent about how that will fit and how we can move. It has become clearer that if we can enter into a stewardship agreement now, we will be able to move into the ELMS when it becomes available, before the end of the period. It is about how we are flexible within those schemes. The current system has been delayed payments, with a nightmare bureaucracy. It has over-measured and over-regulated, and there has been no trust in the farmer to deliver. We need to build that into the new scheme, and build trust with farmers to work to that system.
ffinlo Costain: Countryside stewardship has been very input-focused. Often farmers have done something because there is a box to tick—because they are getting paid for x, rather than because it necessarily delivers the outcome. I think that is what Martin was alluding to. It is not the most successful scheme. There is this five-year transition, where the basic payments are going out. In that time, it is for farmers to step up and understand how to deliver these outcomes, and to develop, either individually or across landscapes, proposals that deliver those public goods. So long as we are focused on outcomes rather than inputs, we will make progress. Farmers should be absolutely at the forefront of that.
Caroline Drummond: A little bit more security and clarity in the timescale is really important. Obviously, farmers do not make decisions today for tomorrow; many decisions are made three or four years in advance. Many crops are grown for nine or 10 months—for livestock, it is a longer time span—before you get any level of return. That timescale is at the moment not 100% clear, because decisions could be made at the very last minute. That is a big concern.
We must not forget that although a lot of the stewardship has not been ideal, for every pound that farmers get from support mechanisms they are delivering so much more from an environmental perspective, because it is good for their business and because, obviously, they fundamentally believe it. We do need to build confidence that the system will work, and that farmers really want to adopt it. We are involved in some of the trials for the ELMS project, and it is really encouraging to see farmers very much embracing it and saying, “Yeah, we want to be involved.”
ffinlo Costain: I said earlier that land use—the way we farm—is the golden ticket for getting us out of the challenges we face and continuing to support food production. I want to give you a couple of statistics. Funding for agriculture is £3.1 billion, but that is tiny in terms of Government expenditure. For every citizen in Britain, we are paying less than £1 per week to farmers for all the good work they do, which we have been talking about. Compare that with £42 per citizen per week for the NHS. Just administrating central Government is £3.57 a week per citizen, so farming is getting very little.
In terms of managing the transition and making sure that farmers can deliver, somebody has to say it: farmers should be getting more because they are doing such a good job. In the future we will be expecting so much more, and I would like the budget to increase.