THE CLA has welcomed the comments made by the Environment Secretary to boost productivity for farmers while protecting the environment.

Theresa Villiers said at the Oxford Farming Conference that throughout 2020 there will be radical changes to agriculture policy, which includes introducing the Agriculture Bill to Parliament this month.

She said “we want our new scheme to deliver value for money as well as boosting sustainable productivity to support farmers in their work of feeding the nation” and “our proposals for Environmental Land Management will be one of the most important environmental reforms for 40 years”.

CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “Nobody should underestimate the challenge of leaving the Common Agricultural Policy – but the transition to ELMs provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly system of public goods.

“It is essential this transition is not rushed as it’s for the long term, with farmers and land managers being supported through this radical change. The Secretary of State and the department must allow proper time for members of the rural community to adjust and adapt, which might mean delaying the start of this transition.”

Mr Bridgeman also welcomed the Secretary of State’s focus on rural productivity.

He added: “The rural economy has immense potential for economic growth and job creation, but we need the right policies to unleash it. It is at least 16 percent less productive than the national average, but closing that productivity gap could add £43bn to the national economy.

“But we need recognition that boosting rural productivity is more than farming alone. It will be a cross government effort touching policy areas in many major departments – digital and energy connectivity, planning reform and tax simplification are just as important to many rural businesses as policy initiatives led by Defra.”

“The Secretary of State should lead this cross-Government working with one sole focus – to unleash the potential of all rural businesses.”

Meanwhile the Rare Breed Survival Trust also welcomed the Secretary of State's comments at the conference. RBST chief executive Christopher Price said: "We welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to improve agricultural productivity and reward farmers for all the public benefits they provide.

"Support for the native breed livestock sector should be a core feature of this approach. The UK’s native breeds provide us with low input, high welfare produce with a strong brand that if properly marketed can sell at a premium.

"Farmers need encouragement to return to native breeds through appropriate training and ensuring we have the right infrastructure in place, particularly a comprehensive network of small local abattoirs.

"Native breeds also deliver a range or public benefits that should be supported through ELMS. They are ideally suited to conservation grazing and generally add to the quality of the rural landscape."