Gove sets out vision to Oxford Farming Conference

Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove delivered a speech at the 2018 Oxford Farming Conference today - Farming for the next generation. Read on for Sustain's response

The speech, found here in full, as ever, touches on some of his personal obsessions – the importance of big data, for example, and how regulation can work against us rather than for us. But notably he has accepted the principle of ‘public money for public good’ and says he will target support for farmers accordingly.

Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive at Sustain said: “Good on Michael Gove for accepting our demands on the principle of public money for public good. For too long public subsidies have been directed to already wealthy landowners, simply because they have the means to buy land. Targeting support to those who need it and creating some space for new, smaller entrants is in the best interests of our food system and environmental landscape. 

“We welcome his comments on the importance of focusing on high quality, sustainable food production. Exiting the EU should lead us to the sunny uplands of a Better Food Britain, rather than prompt a race to the bottom in which we end up eating chlorine-dipped, antibiotic-treated chicken and inadvertently promoting poor animal welfare. 

“He says his colleagues are ‘looking’ at overall fairness in the food supply chain – but it’s a full year since the Groceries Code Adjudicator consultation closed. We think it’s about time they extended the GCA role to cover farmers – we don’t need to wait for Brexit or trade deals for that to happen.” 

Gove also helpfully sketches out some of the risks that lie ahead when we (and others) forge new trade links across the globe – things like increased packaging, soil erosion, desertification and more journeys by air, land and sea. His words on the importance of enhancing nature, safeguarding our oceans, cleaning our rivers through all this change are very much to be welcomed. His insistence on the importance of maintaining high quality standards in our food production and animal welfare and including public health in the formulation of food policy are similarly to be applauded.

However, he goes on to argue strongly against protecting our farmers, farm workers and domestic industry, saying protections are barriers to change, involve higher costs, lower productivity. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the implications of that view in future trade deals. We are on course to exit the EU, but that should not mean we simply throw our domestic farm workers to the global trade wolves.

There are interesting hints and policy announcements in the speech: 

•    Plans are afoot to streamline the inspection regime, make the rural payments scheme more efficient and simplify the process for applying for Countryside Stewardship funds. Farmers weary with paperwork will welcome these plans. 
•    New support for those who choose to ‘farm in the most sustainable fashion’, which includes the provision of woodland, new wildlife habitats and improved water quality.
•    Additional funding for those who collaborate on environmental improvements at scale
•    Improving public procurement of British food across the public sector gets a mention. (Sustain is pleased to be on the DEFRA steering committee for this work.) 
•    The amount of farming subsidies support will stay the same, in cash terms, until 2022 (separate to the speech Gove made a commitment to basic payments until 2024). 
•    A new measure or scheme (dare we say kitemark?) for British farmers and food producers to show high quality production values 

Food and Farming Policy


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Food and Farming Policy: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.



Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.