ANNE-MARIE TREVELYAN: Farmers have crucial role as stewards of the countryside

Last week we marked National Farmers’ Day. MPs donned wheatsheaf lapel pins and shared stories of their local farming communities, paying tribute to their incredible work.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 17th September 2020, 12:00 am
Farming plays is a vital role in the wellbeing of the nation.
Farming plays is a vital role in the wellbeing of the nation.

It is easy to appreciate that farmers keep our food supply going, but it is equally important to remember their crucial role as stewards of the countryside. The work they do not only maintains livestock or arable crops, it also nurtures landscapes and valuable habitats. As we all look to the ways in which we can sustain our planet for future generations, we need a policy shift towards celebrating and rewarding those who conserve our environment.

The new Agriculture Bill, presently working its way through Parliament, has this at its heart. As we leave the EU and its method of subsidising farmers, we have been able to design our own scheme. The plan is to shift away from simply rewarding the largest farms towards a system of “public money for public good” which will reward farmers who maintain higher animal welfare standards, improve access to the countryside or bring in measures to reduce flooding.

The new Bill champions British food by improving transparency and fairness in the supply chain from farm to fork and through investing in new technology and research to ensure our world-renowned food producers remain competitive and innovative. I know from my mailbag how important food standards are to us all as consumers, and transparency allows us to use knowledge to reward sustainable producers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only highlighted how much we value food producers, but how much we value human connections. I know that many have struggled to interpret the existing guidelines, which enabled us to go to pubs and restaurants with people from one other household. The new “rule of six” for social settings is simpler to understand, and enables us to continue to work in covid-safe spaces, and for children to continue to go to school and to catch up on their vital education, whilst protecting the most vulnerable in our society from what can be a deadly disease for them.

While a vaccine is developed, we are working on an alternative plan which could allow life to return closer to normality – based on mass testing. This could include increasing testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October. In the near future, mass testing could allow us to identify people who do not have coronavirus, allowing them to lead more normal lives in the knowledge they cannot infect anyone else. Scientists are also working to develop faster coronavirus tests which are capable of giving results in as little as 20 minutes. We hope to deploy these on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved – literally millions of tests processed every day. In addition to providing £500 million to speed up coronavirus testing and assess the benefits of repeat population testing, we will fund a new, community-wide trial in Salford, launching immediately, to assess the benefits of repeat population testing.

As with all advanced scientific progress, nothing is guaranteed, which is why we must continue to do all we can to protect our families and communities by washing our hands, wearing a face covering where needed, and ensuring we keep a safe distance from others. I have every confidence in the British people to continue the stoic resolve we have displayed throughout this crisis so far.