The first â€˜rural contractâ€™ that gives communities more power to hold the Government to account on rural growth is a step in the right direction, although promises must now be delivered, the NFU said today.
The Rural Statement recognises the importance of agriculture to the rural economy and spells out the Governmentâ€™s commitment to â€˜encouraging sustainable production of the high quality produce and food that Britain is known forâ€™.
NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said: â€œIt is so important that we see the sustainable intensification of agriculture â€“ producing more while reducing our impact on the environment â€“ if we are to meet the worldâ€™s need for more food without undoing the environmental gains we have made.â€
The NFU has also welcomed Government support in the statement for the Green Food Project – a joint initiative between Government, industry and environmental bodies – designed to identify how sustainable intensification will work in practice.
However, Mr Raymond stressed that promises must now be turned into action. â€œThe Governmentâ€™s commitment to freeing rural businesses from the unnecessary Government control that has got in the way of rural economic growth in the past is very welcome though we now need to see action matching the rhetoric.â€
The NFU hopes that the package announced last October following the Rural Economy Growth Review is successful although Defra ruled out any fiscal measures. We were very disappointed that the package excludes capital allowances directed at on-farm investment, for example, to build climate-friendly poultry units.
Mr Raymond added that the Governmentâ€™s investment in broadband, though welcome, was unlikely to be enough to meet its targets for 2015. â€œThe extra Â£300 million Government money for broadband announced in August needs to be used thoughtfully to help as many rural people as possible to get connected to high-speed broadband as this is an essential business tool. We can expect commercial companies to connect at least two-thirds of the population – there is Government funding already committed to extend the network further, but the most remote rural areas still pose a huge challenge.â€
The NFU also believes it will be important to ensure that the Rural Community Renewable Energy Fund meets the needs of all concerned including farmers as well as the local communities within which they operate.