NSA says Labour must act to secure rural confidence

The National Sheep Association has cautiously welcomed the newly elected Labour government following their success in the UK General Election.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said, “Agriculture is still within ‘transition’ away from the Common Agricultural Policy, and in addition has suffered from several years of turmoil. With the election now over and a new Labour government in power it gives an opportunity to build on some good work that has been done, to deal with some of the gaps still left such as a clear vision and a stronger connection between food production, land management, health, and the economy, to finally give some stability and certainty to our sector – which should be seen as a strategically vital sector.

Stocker continued, “The Labour manifesto was short on detail and depth and when the party has been questioned on future agriculture budgets has responded that we need more understanding of the value and benefits of investments to date. NSA agrees with this but we are also strongly of the opinion that current budgets are inadequate given the urgency of many challenges ahead. We urgently need wider and deeper impact assessments of the new farming and environmental schemes as well as more complete recognition of public goods delivery – including food production as a public good.

“It is imperative there is not another U-turn in policy for the industry, instead existing policy needs to be built upon and fundamental issues raised by the wider industry addressed. NSA has highlighted eight priorities that the sheep industry are seeking to build a positive sector for the future.

“These include a commitment to increasing the agricultural budget across the nation to ensure delivery of the outcomes we want, recognition of food production as a public good, appreciation of the value of grazed livestock as a multi-functional farming and land management activity, a clear strategic policy to ensure agriculture offers viability and stability whilst giving new entrants clear support, and a commitment to reviewing carbon offsetting, biodiversity net gain, and nutrient neutrality policies.”

When asked to explain his concerns about environmental markets further, Stocker said, “I am thinking about outcomes, and what we are seeing is land being lost to farming to gain financial benefit from these schemes. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, as long as the scale etc is kept in perspective, but this is turning into a landlord/tenant battle with tenants and shorter term lets being taken back in hand so landlords are benefitting and tenants are being squeezed back into smaller unviable holdings.

“Part of the problem is that there is still not adequate recognition of the public good delivered by farming, so in terms of any environmental credits its become a farming vs environment argument.

“It would help if farming, and I accept this might mean a particular sensitive approach to farming, could qualify for environmental credits, but again its an either/or option – and it would also help if there were policy instruments that incentivised long term tenancies so that big landowners had a benefit from having tenant farming on their estates. This might take us into the are of tax allowances etc. This is why I’m suggesting the whole thing needs to be reviewed.”

NSA Chairman and Devon Sheep Farmer Peter Delbridge commented, “The food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in UK, and as farmers we are providing the raw materials for it. This demonstrates the importance of support for agriculture from our new government not only to promote a sustainable UK farming industry and support rural communities but also to help sustain the many jobs that are also dependant on our sector.

NSA Policy Manager Emma Bradbury added, “There has been a continued lack of commitment to food security over the past decade; we cannot ignore our own food insecurity and must appreciate the production capabilities of our own agricultural systems.

“It is imperative that both politicians and the public are aware of the significant impact agriculture has on the environment, biodiversity and the economy, and British farmers must be supported and enhanced through any future policy. Now is the time for Labour to put in the work and secure confidence in our rural communities. NSA is looking forward to engaging with newly elected officials including the new Secretary of State, Daniel Zeichner who made a commitment ahead of the election to join NSA to speak at NSA Sheep Event.”

The NSA says that it looks forward to welcoming Mr Zeichner to its first ever NSA Breakfast Club Live – that will be live streamed at the NSA Sheep Event on Tuesday 30th July at the Three Counties Showground, Worcestershire.

Mr Stocker concluded, “As the new government begins its move into Downing Street it is only right to give thanks to the outgoing team that NSA has worked with over several years. NSA is incredibly grateful to our outgoing Farming Minister, Mark Spencer, who has continued to be receptive and collaborative throughout the particularly challenging political period that has faced the industry. Not only that but Mr Spencer has shown a real understanding and passion for the industry and has been an ally to the farming industry.”


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