The Future Of Agriculture And Farming The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook is currently gathering news items for major features in the next edition covering the Government’s measures to help farmers become more competitive whilst still maintaining environmental protection In January this year the Government announced the creation of new Rural and Farming Networks giving rural business leaders a hotline to the heart of Government and allowing them to be able to directly shape future rural policies. Fourteen networks representing different areas of England have been set up to identify and feed back local issues and concerns straight to the heart of Government, in order to make policies more rural-friendly. The Networks bring together people from rural communities, rural businesses and the food and farming industries. They will make a direct link between rural areas and the Government, creating new opportunities to develop better and more targeted policy. The new networks sit alongside a £165 million package of measures to support rural communities announced in the Rural Economy Growth Review which aims to maximise the economic potential of rural communities and businesses. The Rural Economy Growth Review included:
£100 million to grow rural businesses through the Rural Development Programme for England; Grants totalling £20 million to extend superfast broadband to the remotest areas; New Rural Growth Networks to help rural areas overcome barriers to growth such as poor infrastructure, scarcity of business premises and lack of business networks; Action to cut red tape on use of farm buildings to address the shortage of rural business premises; £25 million to promote rural tourism and supporting its businesses; and Loans totalling £20 million for community-owned renewable energy schemes.
Then in February the farming industry became the first to benefit from the Government’s pledge to slash red tape which hinders business efficiency. A raft of measures to free farmers from the shackles of unnecessary burdens, help their businesses become more competitive and so provide a boost to the economy whilst still ensuring environmental protection were published in February. Launching the Government’s full response to Farming Regulation Task Force, Mr Paice, the Farming Minister, committed to take action on 86 per cent of the independent panel’s original recommendations made last May. Key commitments included:
A pilot to increase data sharing between government agencies that if successful will be extended, leading to less form filling; Closer industry involvement in the policy making process to look for non-regulatory approaches wherever possible, and a Defra-NFU staff exchange programme starting in April;
Simplifying messages to farmers about environmental protection rules so they know exactly what they have to do to comply; Offering a potential way forward for removing the six-day livestock standstill rule, as long the livestock industry can develop a workable approach to the use of livestock separation units which will maintain protection against animal disease and that the changes are affordable and enforceable; and Fewer inspections for farmers who already meet high environmental and animal welfare standards, as a result of NFU-led regional networks co-ordinating Government agencies, local councils and assurance scheme providers. More effective UK lobbying on key EU farming laws, by working closely with industry experts through strategy groups; Scheduled meetings between the Department of Transport and the NFU on changing rules restricting tractor and trailer weights; Making it easier for farmers to access Government services on-line; A fly-tipping summit to bring together organisations across all sectors to galvanise support for regional action; and Defra workshops with farmers to look at how paperwork can be reduced.
In March, as the next stage of the £165 million package of support to help unlock the economic potential of our rural areas, this was followed by the launch of a new £20 million scheme to help provide work-based training for rural businesses. There will be training opportunities in business management and computer skills (ICT), improving resource efficiency, developing leadership qualities, and improving animal health and welfare. Businesses will also be able to apply for training to improve traditional rural and farming skills and take new business opportunities in rural tourism. Around one thousand rural farms and businesses will soon turn business plans into reality as the first grants from the new £20 million Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme are approved by Defra, Farming Minister, Jim Paice announced in April. Farmers, foresters and horticulturalists will receive grants of up to £25,000 to invest in green projects and new machinery so their businesses can grow in a more sustainable way. The Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme will fund new profit-boosting green schemes that:
save energy and reduce carbon emissions; reduce dependence on artificial fertilizers through better use of manures; improve soil quality; improve animal health and welfare; save and recycle water; and promote woodland management by processing timber more efficiently.
These schemes are part of Defra’s £100 million package of investments through the Rural Development Programme for England that was announced in the Rural Economy Growth Review in November 2011. The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook will continue to report on the progress of the measures as we go through the months ahead. Web: www.parliamentaryyearbookinformationoffice.co.uk