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Jeremy's Blog 17th June 2022: Food Strategy - Farming Business

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 16th June 2022

The Government’s Food Strategy White Paper is better seen as it describes itself: “the beginning of this conversation”, largely focused on the production of food as a business. It may not cover all the social policy strands of last year’s Dimbleby Report and, while affirming the Government’s environmental targets, it was not the place for a full blown environmental presentation. Climate change and biodiversity are part of securing the future of agriculture and much else but the paper more closely considers the production, supply and resilience of food, with the fourth key component of security, affordability, as much a matter for larger economic policy and our ability to ensure growth.

From the start of England’s Agricultural Transition, DEFRA has stressed the twin themes of productivity improvement (the economic efficiency and profitability of farming) and environmental improvement. Many policy statements have emphasised the second (and will continue to do so) with the CAAV urging Inheritance Tax reform to give confidence for that). The Food Strategy now re-affirms the importance of the first - the business of food production with £270m specifically for innovation programmes to 2029.

With innovation and technology more generally and a particular concern for salads, so much imported, support is offered to large glasshouses and controlled environment farming. This might not always be farming as many think of it but is a commitment to British food production. Farming, being made an unsubsidised business, has to respond by becoming more competitive. A critical point, not made in the paper, is opening the land occupation market for those able to meet this challenge to have the land they need. We need those with the will to succeed; they will master what is needed and use the fast-coming innovation.

Last weekend saw the usual round of interest groups having already ground their axes and getting their retaliation in first (or trying to shape the debate) – all deemed newsworthy. Many, often too easily looking to be let down, misread the picture. Landscape Recovery does survive but DEFRA has flexibility to vary the balance of funding between the environmental schemes in response to applicant demand. With a land use framework to come, Victoria Prentis told Farming Today that that there was now room to “lean in” to protect productive land.

In combination with the Prime Minister’s speech last week, some planning liberalisation appears in prospect. While the Levelling Up Bill might further tighten the formal planning system, Government also continues to take issues out of the planning system. The speech hinted at more on Class Q, the Food Strategy paper thinks of glasshouses and such. The CAAV is pressing for help on the slurry stores needed to protect water and air quality.

Perhaps not yet a strategy, but a welcome approach with all depending on how it is taken forward.

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