PM to tell farming conference Government is ‘by their side’

Rishi Sunak is set to pledge he will “never take our food security for granted” as he outlines support for farmers in a speech to the sector.

Speaking to the National Farmers’ Union conference on Tuesday, the Prime Minister is expected to say the Government will “be by their side” as farming goes through its biggest change in a generation.

Mr Sunak will highlight £427 million in grants in 2024, including a doubling of the amount going to technology and innovation schemes to £220 million to support farmers increase productivity – such as robotics, roof-top solar and agricultural research.

The money is part of the Government’s commitment to maintain support for English farming at pre-Brexit levels of £2.4 billion a year.

And he will announce cuts to “red tape” around permitted development rights to make it easier for farmers to develop buildings and diversify earnings by creating farm shops, commercial spaces and sporting venues.

Conservative leadership bid
Rishi Sunak speaking at an event at Manor Farm (Chris J Ratcliffe/PA)

But Steve Barclay, the Environment Secretary, denied that Mr Sunak’s attendance at the conference was due to electoral concerns.

Asked whether this was the case, the Environment Secretary told LBC: “No, I worked with the Prime Minister, I was obviously his deputy in the Treasury, and when he asked me to do this role I was very keen that he did come to the NFU conference.

“I think it is important to signal that the whole Government is absolutely focused on food production and food security. I think the importance of food security has increased given the volatility around the world.”

He also attacked Labour as an “urban” party “full of London MPs that don’t understand our rural communities”.

Farmers have been dealing with the impacts of soaring costs of inputs including fuel and fertiliser since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, along with the move to a new post-Brexit regime of farming payments that focus on sustainable agriculture.

Mr Sunak is expected to tell farmers: “While the importance of farmers will never change – farming is going through its biggest change in a generation.

“And as farmers do so, this government will be by their side.

“They have been dealing with soaring global prices in things like fuel and fertiliser.

“So, we’ve been working hard to get inflation down – from 11.1% last year to 4% now.

“And we’re increasing payments in our farming schemes by an average of 10%.”

“They are also at the forefront of innovation – from gene editing to boost resilience to disease, to automation to help harvest crops.

“And while thanks to you we enjoy good quality food all year round, global events – including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – have put food security back at the top of the agenda.

“We’ll never take our food security for granted.”

The PM will add: “I know how important my neighbours – our farmers – truly are.

“You help to employ millions, add billions to our economy, shape the landscape, but most of all, you produce the food we need – food that is some of the best and highest quality anywhere in the world.”

The Government said almost half of farmers in England were receiving support through new schemes post-Brexit.

This includes the sustainable farming incentive (SFI), which pays farmers for things such as improving soil health, protecting waterways and preserving hedgerows.

Payment rates have been increased by an average of 10% for the scheme, and the management payment, which recognises the time and cost involved in participating in the programme, is being doubled, putting as much as an extra £1,000 into farmers’ pockets.

Mr Sunak is also expected to announce new regulations for the dairy sector, so they have reasonable and transparent contracts, with similar regulations for the pig sector later this year, followed by the egg sector.

The Government will also publish an annual food security index in the spring, monitoring the UK’s current level of food security and how it can be maintained.

Shadow environment secretary Steve Reed accused the Conservative government of undermining British farming.

He said: “They put up trade barriers that blocked food exports and let energy bills soar out of control, crippling producers and putting thousands out of business.”

He added: “Labour will give farmers their future back.

“We will tear down export barriers by seeking a veterinary agreement with the EU, boost jobs by buying more local food for hospitals and prisons, and cut energy bills by producing clean energy right here in the UK.”

Responding to the Prime Minister’s £220 million funding announcement, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Conservative prime ministers have spent years taking farmers for granted.

“From the botched rollout of farm payments to trade deals undercutting our farmers, this government has let down rural communities at every turn.

“Rural communities have been ignored by Rishi Sunak. His government just doesn’t care and doesn’t get it, this cynical pre-election giveaway doesn’t do anything to change that.”

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