LAST week I visited Old Rectory Farms in Wolverton. They’re part of the Nature Friendly Farming network, and their farm is a glorious patchwork of fields, woods and hedgerows all teeming with wildlife. We talked about the challenges for farmers from stamping out rural crime to balancing food production with biodiversity. It was a fascinating visit. 

A few days before, I had specifically raised rural crime with the Home Secretary and what more we can do to stop plant machinery theft and fly tipping. In particular, I pressed for an increase in police resources in the countryside, especially at night when it should be easier to identify suspected criminals once the pubs close and the roads empty. I will keep you updated on this.

During my visit to Wolverton, we talked about the importance of changing the focus of government funding for farmers to encourage considering nature and biodiversity in their work. We know that farming alongside nature, rather than against it, can help build a resilient agricultural sector that produces sustainable food and protects our environment. 

We are now moving away from direct payments for farmers. The old system was widely seen as unfair as half of the cash ended up going to the 10 per cent largest farms.

Instead, we are maintaining the farming budget for England of around £2.4 billion a year, and this money will now be made available primarily through our Sustainable Farming Initiative. Importantly, farmers who were not eligible for the old direct payments, can now access this funding to help reduce costs and waste on their farm, boost resilience, and protect the environment. In future, farmers will be paid on what they are doing rather than just how much land they have.

The scheme has been designed so that it works well for small farms too. So far in six months, almost 22,000 farms have applied for the Sustainable Farming Initiative and half of them are farms under 370 acres. 

We are lucky to live in one of the most rural constituencies in England. Our farmers play an important part in our local food systems and economy, and I am determined to support them in any way I can.