Labour Leader Sir Kier Starmer and Farming Minister Mark Spencer addressed the NFU Conference in Birmingham on 21/22 February to set out their plans for the future of farming.

Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, RPG’s Founder and Chairman and colleagues in MHA’s Agriculture Sector Team and Sustainability and ESG Team weigh up whether those policy promises meet the needs of farmers.

Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, Partner at MHA with an interest in food manufacture said, “Both parties recognise that as a country we need to be able to feed ourselves and have made commitments to give confidence to the UK’s farmers.

“The Farming Minister addressed some of the industry’s biggest concerns. A higher quota for foreign agricultural workers to redress labour shortages, £168m in grants to facilitate new technology, working to improve fair dealing within the food supply chain and broadening the scope of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) to enable more farms to participate stood out for me.

“However, there are still unanswered questions which undermine the industry’s ability to plan production levels and invest. We do not know what will happen when the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme ends in 2024 and without a guarantee of labour farms may continue to reduce production levels. The future of the Grocery Code Adjudicator which ensures all parties are treated fairly in contract negotiations is under review”.

Speaking about the new ELMS announcements, Jose Hopkins, Sustainability & ESG Technical Director Lead at MHA said, “Whilst the payment for public goods principle behind the Environmental Land Management Scheme is admirable, subsidy reform poses a challenge”. When Basic Payments disappear 42% of farms will potentially be lossmaking.

The Farming Minister’s announcements that ELMS will be more accessible to tenanted farmers and standards will be rolled out quicker will give comfort to some of the 42%, as will his indication that first payments under ELMS could be received within three months of applying online.

“Defra has listened to farmers and the collaboration between government and business to try and smooth the transition towards environmental recovery is to be applauded”.