As preparation continues for Brexit next March we are preparing to grasp the opportunities that this historic departure presents to get rid of outdated policies and procedures, as well as ensure that our exit is done in an orderly way that keeps our economy growing and our country secure.
Given the importance of agriculture and farming in our wonderful Constituency, it is no surprise that I have been left in no doubt over the past few years that Brexit means we can set many of our own rules in this area that work best for British farmers – we now truly have the opportunity to take back control for our farmers and deliver a cleaner, greener and healthier environment for future generations. So it was good to see the introduction today of the Agriculture Bill to prepare this vital sector for our post Brexit future – setting out how we will replace the current subsidy system with a new approach where farmers and land managers will be rewarded for ‘public goods’ such as better air and water quality and higher animal welfare standards. I know from meeting so many of our local farmers just how new technologies can revolutionise farming.
This Bill is also underpinned by measures designed to increase productivity and invest in research and development, helping farmers to become more profitable by saving time and increasing yields, while at the same time helping to reduce their environmental footprint. The government has already announced £23.5 million to be allocated through the Countryside Productivity Grants scheme, and I am delighted that more than £7 million of these small grants will help farmers and rural businesses across the south-west. It was a very good day to be sporting a ‘Back British Farming” wheat badge as we celebrate the contribution of our world class farmers and agronomists and plan for the future.
But while we plan, I’m also acutely aware that one pressing current issue for local farmers is concern about the spread of Bovine TB – both locally and nationally the greatest animal health threat we currently face, and one that has the potential to devastate beef and dairy herds, cause harm and distress to infected cattle and cost the taxpayer more than £100 million each year. That is why I am glad that Ministers are delivering a 25-year strategy to eradicate this disease and protect the UK’s dairy and beef industries. This includes one of the world’s most rigorous cattle surveillance programmes, promoting good biosecurity and badger control to ensure continued progress towards the target of achieving ‘Officially Free’ status for England by 2038.