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Rishi Sunak Set to Reveal 'Unprecedented' Agriculture Grant Program for Agritech and Food Production Efficiency

Rishi Sunak is poised to introduce an extensive set of agricultural policies, encompassing reductions in planning bureaucracy, a significant increase in grant funding, and a thorough review of the poultry supply chain, during his address to the agricultural community at the National Farmers Union's (NFU) annual conference in Birmingham.

The forthcoming announcement will spotlight the "largest ever" grant allocation for farmers in the upcoming fiscal year, anticipated to reach £427m, including a novel suite of funds dedicated to technological and productivity initiatives. Despite not allocating additional funds to farming, Defra assures that this package will fulfil the government's pledge to sustain the English farming budget at £2.4bn annually.

A portion of £220m is designated for forward-looking technological and productivity projects, enabling farmers to procure new machinery that enhances automation and decreases dependency on foreign labour. This initiative also aims to support energy-saving measures, such as installing rooftop solar panels on farms to preserve land for food production, as stated by Defra.

This substantial funding will extend support for on-farm processing, packaging, and retailing activities.

Additionally, the Prime Minister will announce an enhancement of management payments within the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) – a subsidy program designed to promote environmental stewardship among farmers – which he claims will "put up to an extra £1,000 in farmers' pockets".

The SFI scheme is also set to be extended in July as part of efforts to ensure "there is a single front door to make the application process even easier", Sunak will say.

"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," Sunak is expected to say in his speech.

"They have been dealing with soaring global prices in things like fuel and fertiliser. So, we have been working hard to get inflation down - from 11.1 per cent last year to four per cent now. And we are increasing payments in our farming schemes by an average of 10 per cent."

"Farmers, according to Sunak, are "also at the forefront of innovation - from gene editing to boost resilience to disease, to automation to help harvest crops", he is expected to add. 

"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 will never take our food security for granted. We have a plan to support British farming - and we are going further again today."

Plans to simplify permitted development rights to facilitate on-farm building developments and diversify income sources will be reaffirmed by Sunak, aiming to bolster the rural economy by creating jobs and enabling the development of small and medium enterprises within these communities.

Today's announcements will also touch upon new regulations for enhancing contract transparency in the dairy, pig, and egg sectors, along with a review to ensure fairness within the poultry supply chain, as per Defra.

Moreover, Sunak is set to reveal the government's intention to publish an annual Food Security Index at the upcoming 'Farm to Fork Summit', presenting crucial data on the nation's food security.

"I know how important my neighbours - our farmers - truly are," Sunak is expected to say. "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."

Victoria Vyvyan, president of the Country Land and Business Association, welcomed the funding previewed by Defra, highlighting the necessity of allocating these resources effectively to support farmers in their environmental and food production efforts.

"This funding recognises that farmers can't fight climate change or biodiversity decline on a shoestring budget decimated by inflation," she said. "Defra has under-spent its current budget for two years, so the onus is now on ensuring every penny is used to help deliver its world-leading Environment Land Management schemes (ELMs). Over the course of the next Parliament, the sector will need at least £4bn a year to deliver the sort of environmental outcomes the UK government is seeking."

Also commenting on Sunak's announcements, Martin Lines, CEO of the Nature-Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), said it was "welcome to see the Prime Minister's recognition of the vital contribution farmers make in maintaining the countryside for food production and the environment", but argued the government's efforts still did not go nearly far enough to combat food security and biodiversity threats.

"The nation's food security depends on a thriving natural environment, with healthy soils, clean water and an abundance of biodiversity, all essential components for food production. Securing genuine food security depends on farmers being given the necessary support to invest in a transition to nature-friendly farming systems while navigating the immense uncertainties of farming in a changing climate. While today's announcement provides a lot of welcome actions, it fails to provide the long-term strategy to harness nature's vital role in strengthening the nation's food security."

Tom Lancaster, a land analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said the PM was "right not to take food security for granted".

"From devastating droughts across Europe to floods in the UK this winter, climate change is already hitting food production and prices, with hundreds of pounds added to the average household food bill over the last two years," he said.

"And with British farmers paying nearly £1.5bn extra on their fertiliser bill since Russia's invasion of Ukraine because chemical fertilisers depend on gas, soaring costs are pushing farmers to find alternatives as fast as they can. The PM's new farming schemes will give farmers the tools they need to farm more sustainably, reducing our reliance on imported fertilisers by improving soil health and making farming in the UK more resilient in the face of escalating climate impacts."


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