Environment Secretary Steve Barclay set out his commitment to increasing backing for British farmers during his first major keynote speech at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) rural business conference yesterday.
Mr Barclay said: “My pledge to you is that this government will always back British farmers who produce some of the highest quality food in the world, contribute billions to our economy, and to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for taking care of our countryside.”
The coming weeks are set to see almost £45 million go towards helping farmers foster innovation, increase productivity and improve animal welfare.
This includes £30 million for the second round of the Improving Farming Productivity Grant, alongside £8 million for round three of the Large R&D Partnership, and an extra $850,000 for the Research Starter Round 4 competition, looking to foster new, ambitious agriculture projects.
For the first time, they will also fund solar equipment for on-farm use, alongside further pledges to the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NERIF), supporting nature projects.
Despite the funding being part of the £2.4 billion being invested to support the sector every year, there were calls for Defra to increase the agriculture budget by almost double.
During her opening address, CLA president Victoria Vyvyan said that rural businesses were being held back by a “system not fit-for-purpose” that was a “serious hinderance” for rural prosperity.
Ms VyVyan elaborated: “There’s concern and confusion but there’s also excitement in the farming sector. Things are changing and for the next generation that means opportunity. We need an undertaking that Defra Ministers will go in to bat for an agriculture budget north of £4 billion a year in England for the next parliament.
“With this guarantee, businesses young and old can go to the bank with proof of affordability to finance growth, improve margins and confirm a future.”
She also called for more to be done on rural skills provision, saying that in order to ensure the rural economy for the future, more engagement with secondary education was needed.
The event also showcased innovations in development through grant money. H.L. Hutchinson Limited, successful in the second round of the Large R&D partnerships, are developing systems for environmental measuring and assessing fruit tree status.
Applications for grants open from December onwards, and information on relevant schemes can be found here.