Cllr Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council, spoke at a consultation event on DEFRA’s proposals for a new national agricultural policy to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
Cllr Hill said: “The county council has a sizeable stake in farming in Lincolnshire, owning 20,000 acres of land, so this issue is of considerable importance to us. In addition, because of the current European farm subsidies and the associated business rates, any changes are likely to have a financial impact.
“We see Brexit as an opportunity for finding a fresh approach to agriculture, one that works better for British farmers. A thriving farming sector is essential for the future prosperity of our county and the country as a whole.
“Of course, farming is not just of economic importance – it also plays a vital role in protecting our historic landscapes and environment. Many years ago, the county council established the Lincolnshire Forum for Agriculture and Horticulture, to ensure our local agricultural sector has a strong voice.
“When you consider that Greater Lincolnshire accounts for 10% of English agriculture, and is the market leader in many intensive crop and livestock categories, such as vegetable, sugar beet, and turkey production, you can understand why these are people that need to be listened to.
“This forum has helped shape our response to this consultation, and we would like national government to pay equally close attention to their views. One thing that has become apparent through our conversations with local farmers is that there is a need for strong, stable markets for their products and a supply of skilled labour to allow them to realise their business plans.
“That means we must ensure our farmers are not undermined by future trade deals that permit imports of food produced with lower welfare or environmental standards. And our focus shouldn’t solely be on agriculture – we need to create a strong policy link with other vital areas, such as food production, energy and landscape.
”A key example is the need to promote the food sector as a career choice, ensuring the development of skills and knowledge in that area. We must also remember that the impact this sector has on the economy is much wider than just farming, fishing and food processing.
“There are many other areas, such as logistics, packaging and professional services, that are dependent on the food chain for much of their livelihood. Perhaps most importantly, it should not be seen simply as a ‘rural issue’. Even in Greater Lincolnshire, a predominately rural area, over 70% of food businesses are located in areas classed as ‘urban’.
“Our communities add substantial value to the UK economy and they should be seen as just as economically important as cities. Businesses operating in rural communities need access to the same facilities as businesses operating in towns and cities.
“Poor mobile phone and broadband coverage is simply not acceptable in 2018. This technology is vital for all rural businesses to thrive in the future. So we advocate a more rounded approach, considering all issues from field to fork. That’s the best way to ensure we achieve a strong Brexit for both Lincolnshire’s rural communities and the UK as a whole.”