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Grants worth £427m will be opened to farmers this year – following an announcement by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at last month’s NFU conference.... Government makes pledge on UK food security

Grants worth £427m will be opened to farmers this year – following an announcement by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at last month’s NFU conference.

The package will include £220m for technology and productivity schemes, said Mr Sunak – ensuring the government delivered on its commitment to maintain the farming budget for England at £2.4 billion per year for the duration of this parliament.

The schemes would ensure farmers could access new equipment, including kit which increases automation to reduce reliance on overseas workers. It would also fund cost-saving energy measures, such as rooftop solar, to safeguard land for food production.

The multi-million-pound funding pot will also increase support for processing, packing and retailing on farms. It doubles investment in productivity schemes, growing the grant offer from £91m to keep up with demand from farmers.

Farm support

Almost half of farmers in England were now receiving government support through new schemes created post-Brexit, said Mr Sunak. “We’ll never take our food security for granted. We’ve got a plan to support British farming – and we’re going further again today.”

The Prime Minister also confirmed plans to reduce red tape around permitted development rights  – encouraging farmers to develop buildings and diversify earnings through farm shops, commercial space and sporting venues.

It is expected to benefit the broader rural community by increasing job opportunities and commercial units available, helping local residents to develop small and medium enterprises in rural communities, and connecting communities more with their local farms.

Mr Sunak also announced a new annual Food Security Index to monitor levels of UK food security. He pledged to hold an annual Farm to Fork Summit – similar to the Downing Street event last year – and unveiled a £15m fund to help reduce food waste from the farm gate.

NFU campaign

It follows a sustained NFU campaign on food security. Former NFU president Minette Batters said: “I think it’s significant. When we left the EU we were told the Agriculture Bill would be five-yearly reporting. It was a real battle to get it to every three years.”

She added: “The good thing about annual reporting focusing on the UK is it means we will be measuring more often, allowing us to monitor the situation, and can see if we have a problem and do something about it.”

With a general election expected this year, Ms Batters said she hoped all political parties would commit to hosting an annual domestic food security summit. The issue was vital to the wider general public – not just the farming sector, she suggested.

“Annual assessments will be critical to all of this. Commitment to core standards will also be key. We have to implement core standards that will mean our negotiators will have a clear mandate on which to negotiate these trade deals. That has to happen.”

‘Cynical’ giveaway won’t win back farmers – Lib Dems

Responding to the Rishi Sunak’s £220m funding package, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey accused the prime minister of selling farmers short.

“Conservative prime ministers have spent years taking farmers for granted,” he said. “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 had been ignored by Mr Sunak, said Mr Davey. “His government just doesn’t care and doesn’t get it, this cynical pre-election giveaway doesn’t do anything to change that.”

The Lib Dems claim that Defra’s own figures show a £227m shortfall in government spending on agriculture. And they say the government’s seasonal worker scheme has allowed farmers to recruit just 45,000 employees from overseas, when the NFU says 70,000 workers are needed.

The Lib Dems also say the government voted against measures for an impact assessment on the effect the Australia and New Zealand trade deals would have on farmers – despite arguments that there had been insufficient parliamentary oversight.