NFU attacks National Trust over post-Brexit policy ideas

The NFU has said National Trust statements on how agriculture should look post-Common Agricultural Policy are wrong.

The Government has to replace the EU subsidy system, worth £3bn a year, post-Brexit.

The National Trust, the largest farmer in England and Wales with 618,000 acres and 2,000 tenants, has a vision of an agriculture policy that only gives public money for public goods such as diversity, wildlife and environment that the market does not value, rather than food production. The Trust said agricultural subsidies, most of which are decided by how much land is farmed, should go to those that create the most public benefit and that the current system works against biodiversity and fails to increase productivity.

Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general of the National Trust, said that stewardship of the countryside was "too important to leave to governments and farmers to sort out between themselves".

Blaming "the headlong decline" of species, the loss of breeding grounds and impoverished soils "in large part [on] industrial farming methods incentivised by successive funding regimes since the second world war", she said public money should only be used for the maintenance of the countryside.

"Taxpayers should only pay public subsidy to farmers in return for things that the market won’t pay for but are valued and needed by the public," she said.

The National Trust's full statement is available here.

NFU President Meurig Raymond said: "The picture the National Trust is trying to paint - that of a damaged countryside - is one that neither I nor most farmers, or visitors to the countryside, will recognise.  Farmers have planted or restored 30,000km of hedgerows for example and have increased the number of nectar and pollen rich areas by 134 per cent in the past two years. 

"Farmers take their responsibilities as custodians of the countryside seriously and most visitors to the countryside will be enjoying the natural environment and appreciating the views of rural Britain which have been created by farmers – including many of the landscapes showcased by the National Trust.

"In this debate we must not forget that food production is vital.  We should not be contemplating doing anything which will undermine British farming’s competitiveness or its ability to produce food.  To do so would risk exporting food production out of Britain and for Britain to be a nation which relies even further on imports to feed itself.

"In our view, food security should be considered to be a legitimate political goal and public good.  British farmers are proud of the high standards of production, traceability of the food they produce and high animal welfare.  British food production is the bedrock of the food and drink sector – which is the largest manufacturing sector in the country contributing £108 billion to the economy and employing nearly four million people.

"All our survey work shows that the British public wants to buy more British food and, interestingly, survey work also shows the British public believes farmers play a beneficial role in improving the environment at the same time."

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