Despite its proximity to London, and excellent rail and road links to the rest of the UK, the Brentwood and Ongar constituency is largely rural. Although a surprisingly small number of farmers farm a surprisingly large amount of land, the rural economy is still very important to many constituents – with horse-riding, walking, hunting, shooting and fishing popular with many people throughout the year.
But with Brexit moving ever closer, plans are in place to take back control for farmers after 50 years under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, delivering a cleaner, greener and healthier environment for future generations.
The Agriculture Bill, which has just been introduced in Parliament, will set out how farmers and land managers will in future be rewarded for ‘public goods’, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. This will replace the current subsidy system which pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed, rather than specific public benefits.
The Government will be working with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. However, critically, the Bill will provide a smooth and gradual transition over seven years so that farmers are given time to adjust and plan for the future.
And planning for the future could include the chance for farmers to join together to develop research projects on anything from soil health to sustainable livestock farming. This will help with productivity in the long term, and also offer practical gains for farmers which will help them become more profitable and reduce their environmental footprint.
I know there is excellent support for fair trade products in Brentwood and Ongar, with councillors, businesses and individuals signing up to products which give the producers a fair deal. This Bill also sets out how the government will strengthen transparency in the supply chain to help farmers get a better deal in the marketplace by strengthening their negotiating position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return.