Michael Gove, leading cabinet Brexiteer and Defra minister, has blamed the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for damaging the environment, while heralding a major switch of emphasis from UK farm production support to green enhancement.
Speaking to the Country Land & Business Association’s Rural Business Conference in London this week, Mr Gove said: “We all know that the current system of support for farmers and landowners shaped by the CAP is inefficient, ineffective, inequitable and environmentally harmful.
“The environmental damage generated under the CAP has been striking. EU-inspired systems of agricultural production have damaged our soil. CAP-inspired and sponsored methods of agricultural production in the UK have led to soil degradation which costs us £1.2 billion a year according to Cranfield University.
“The damage is more than just towards soil. Since we joined the EU the number of farmland birds has declined by 54% while the populations of priority species overall have declined by 33%. And also, in recent years, intensive agricultural production systems of the kind driven by the CAP have reduced the numbers of pollinators. With a 49% decline in some specific bee populations, scarcely mitigated by a 29% increase in others.”
Mr Gove said that only 20% of the money allocated from Defra to the CAP goes to environmental land management schemes, with 80% spent on “inefficient and ineffective pillar one payments” on the basis of holding size.
A first step is to make green scheme participation easier – the minister announced that Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency are exploring a streamlined application process to encourage a greater uptake of stewardship.
He said that work to ensure the UK has “the world’s highest animal welfare standards, the world’s most ambitious environmental goals and the most rigorous approach towards sustainability”, would be a competitive advantage in the global marketplace for food and drink. Consumers are demanding higher quality food, and want to know more about provenance, environmental footprint and animal welfare.
But the UK must also focus on raising productivity, as we stand “on the cusp of a new agricultural revolution”. Mr Gove said the state should support the “innovation that you will use to reshape agriculture” through government investment and ambition.
“There is no reason why Britain cannot be the world leader in drone technology, robotics, laser treatment of weeds and pests, the deployment of big data, and also responsible genomics. All of these have the capacity to improve productivity and enable environmental enhancement. I hope to say more in coming days about how we will advance these technologies.
Mr Gove also welcomed a new Food and Drink Sector Council “to ensure that responsibility for effectively marketing and supporting primary producers and others is at the heart of the government’s Industrial Strategy.