Farmers in Lincolnshire continue to face uncertainty until the Brexit process is ‘nailed down’, said one of the county’s top councillors – adding there is an opportunity for them to become ‘pioneers’.
It comes after members of the Economic and Scrutiny Committee were given a report on the Agricultural Bill put forward by Defra in September.
Under the Government’s plans subsidies currently enabled by the European Union would continue until 2027, but direct payments to farmers would be de-coupled from land ownership with the aim instead to reward environmental benefits, increasing research and development and supply chain transparency.
Council officers said last week there were still a “lot of unknowns”, adding that a recommended action plan could include a lot of “guess-work and speculation”.
Coun Colin Davie, the Executive Councillor for Economy and Places, called the bill a ‘starting point’.
He said: “Until Brexit is nailed down and finalised it’s hard to determine what the package of new funding mechanisms is going to be.
“But it’s very clear the government wants farmers to be more independent from the subsidy regime, I would say there is an argument in support paying farmers for environmental stuff – not for food but for supporting quality of the landscape and the quality of the work they do with their land.”
The bill could play a major part in investment for Lincolnshire – in 2016 there was £128 million in payments from subsidies.
The payment could benefit for instance, said officers, those who are tenant farmers who are “wedded to the land” and never had the investment opportunity, or it could go to their pensions.
However, council officers told members on Tuesday that farmers often considered the current payments the difference between profit and loss.
Coun Davies said he would like to see investment go into automation and robotics, helping farms move into the future and create higher-quality food, rather than cheap food.
“It’s about helping them to become new pioneers, re-pioneering the farming sector to help them produce higher quality products for the market place,” he said.
“Anything that frees up money to enable farmers to invest in the world of technology has got to be a welcome move forward.
“I want to be sure farmers use a ‘windfall’ to make the right decisions to help their businesses to grow and compete in the future.”
Councillors also discussed getting younger people into the farming industry as well as developing and promoting attractive career paths in the sector.