Farm spending pledge welcomed

Leading fruit grower James Smith has welcomed a Government pledge to honour EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding to 2020 but urged fellow growers to "keep the noise level up" to ensure the EU-funded producer organisation scheme continues post-Brexit.

Smith: grows fruit at Loddington Farm near Maidstone
Smith: grows fruit at Loddington Farm near Maidstone

Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond has guaranteed that the current level of agricultural funding under CAP pillar 1 will be upheld until 2020, as part of the transition to new domestic arrangements.

Smith, who grows apples, pears, cherries and apricots on 75ha at Loddington Farm near Maidstone, Kent, and is a member of the Fruit Growers Alliance said despite the chancellor's announcement over the weekend growers could not sit back and "hope everything will be okay".

He added: "If the funding is still coming then it's business as usual, but I'd like to think it will keep going long term. It's relatively small in terms of the total CAP but it's really important for horticulture. It encourages growers to work together and think longer term on investing and on the business. It provides a structure, it gives growers confidence."

Smith urged growers to lobby their MPs and MEPs to keep the pressure up. "There's still uncertainty around the whole thing," he said. "There needs to be a pretty robust case. It would be a shame if it all started to unravel.

Hammond said: "The UK will continue to have the all of the rights, obligations and benefits that membership brings, including receiving European funding, up until the point we leave the EU. We recognise that many organisations across the UK which are in receipt of EU funding, or expect to start receiving funding, want reassurance about the flow of funding they will receive. That's why I am confirming that structural and investment funds projects signed before the Autumn Statement and Horizon research funding granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave.

"The Government will also match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020, providing certainty to our agricultural community, who play a vital role in our country. We are determined to ensure that people have stability and certainty in the period leading up to our departure from the EU and that we use the opportunities that departure presents to determine our own priorities."

The NFU said farmers have been given certainty in the short term and the announcement should mean farmers can count on receiving the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) through to 2020 and agri- environment schemes already in place are guaranteed to conclusion. The NFU is working with Defra to understand the position of farmers applying for Countryside Stewardship this September.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: "I hope this short-term certainty will help deliver longer-term confidence and this is exactly what farm businesses need. With the agricultural budget now retained and agri-environment agreements and BPS payments now honoured, I am delighted that the prime minister and Defra have understood the importance of farming and food production."

A National Trust spokesperson said: "We welcome the decision to continue with funding for newly agreed and existing agri-environment schemes. But set against this is the continued uncertainty should new applications be restricted beyond this autumn. This would put at serious risk decades of effort by farmers and organisations like ours to protect and enhance our countryside."

Farming unions from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have pledged to continue their joint lobbying to promote the importance of UK food and farming against a backdrop of intense competition for public spending post Brexit.

British Growers Association chief executive Jack Ward also welcomed Government commitment to post-EU agriculture spending. He had said schemes such as the EUR40m producer organisation funding that runs until 2020, and the entire annual EUR3.2bn for all of British agriculture, was under threat because of Brexit.

He added: "It was a major uncertainty which has now been resolved. We still need to start thinking about what the future looks like and some of the broader issues around what Brexit means for fresh produce. Fifty per cent of our total UK consumption of fresh produce comes from the UK so there is plenty of scope for increasing UK share of the UK market." He said a lobby meeting of all UK producer organisations lined up for 4 October will now be used to discuss the issue of scheme provision post-Brexit and how growers can benefit from the changing market conditions.

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