In his first major speech as Environment Secretary, Michael Gove has promised to lead a ‘green Brexit’. His general approach is to be welcomed, however ‘fine words butter no parsnips’.
The government say they will fund farmers at the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) level till 2022, but then what? As a net contributor to the CAP, the departure of the UK will result in farm payments across the EU being cut by 5-15%.
Will the government then replicate this cut to our own farmers? In the current financial climate it seems inconceivable that the government would subsidise UK agriculture to a greater degree than EU farmers will be.
So, should we not be honest with our farmers and make it clear that after 2022 there will be less money?
Despite this likely cut there will still be a substantial level of funding potentially available to farmers. Rather than seeing this as a subsidy it should be payments for specific activities for instance for maintaining high standards of animal welfare, the protection and enhancement of wildlife on farms, minimum use of pesticides and fertilizers and more organic production.
We need to do all we can to encourage farmers and the environment sector to come together to find common ground. Our region’s farmers need to travel from rural Northumberland and County Durham into the urban areas of Tyneside and Wearside and make the case for taxpayers’ money to keep coming their way. They need to listen to what the ‘townies’ want in return.
And while I welcome the government’s pledge to plant 11m more trees in support of woodland creation, this is a fraction of what we actually need. The UK has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in Europe – about 3 billion trees. Essentially, Gove is promising a 10 per cent increase, but the reality is we need a 40-50 per cent increase to reach the European average.