One of the biggest and most popular events of the year is the Royal County of Berkshire Show, formerly the Newbury Show. Between 60,000 and 70,000 people come to see a proper agricultural show and to be entertained by a huge diversity of activities and spectacles. The show is a meeting place for many but particularly for the rural community and, this year, the talk among the farming community was all about what lies ahead.
For most of the last 50 years farming has operated under rules set by the European Union. Now that is about to change. How we regulate farmers and how we incentivise them is going to be down to us. I was therefore very pleased that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, came to the Show on Saturday to meet with farmers and those running rural businesses to hear their hopes and fears for the future.
Michael did a question and answer session at a packed Country Land and Business Association stand. Questions were wide-ranging and included encouraging more access to the countryside, how new rules for environmental management plans will work and how the Government will define the so-called “public goods” for which farmers will be rewarded under the new system. Public goods are activities such as those that ensure soils lock up carbon, that encourage more wildlife and that deliver greater quantities of clean usable water.
When Parliament returns after the three-week conference recess we will be straight into a debate on the new Agriculture Bill. I will do my bit to ensure that we have a new system that encourages farmers and landowners to work across landscapes like the Berkshire Downs or the Kennet Valley to deliver a more sustainable environment for the future. It is important that the voices of the many responsible farmers are in my head, alongside the many who care deeply for our countryside and how we produce food for a hungry world.