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Partners seek to improve Cumbria’s rural economy

Cumbria LEP and Cumbria County Council have submitted their response to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation on the future wellbeing of the county’s rural economy, including food production, farming and protection of the environment post-Brexit.

The joint response brought together key partners in the county through the LEP’s rural sub group, including leading farming and rural businesses, the NFU, Farmer Network, the Lake District National Park Authority and others.

In developing the response partners were clear that farming sits at the heart of the rural economy in Cumbria, employing nearly 12,000 people in the sector.

The consultation posed fourteen key questions ranging from simplification of current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) arrangements and modelling a successful future for farming, through to supporting rural communities and international trade and export opportunities.

Cumbria LEP Board member Nigel Wilkinson said: “Future food and farming policy has significant implications for the county’s longer term economic wellbeing and the sustainability of our rural communities.

“The landscape created by agriculture, forestry and fishing here underpins the visitor economy, which attracts over 45 million visitors annually and contributes around £900m of economic value to the Cumbrian economy.

“With such a diverse mix of farming practice, from arable lowland coastal plains to upland farms, Cumbria faces a unique challenge. A new payments system therefore needs to be designed to ensure that people are incentivised to join the farming, food and drink, and energy sectors. We need our farming and rural businesses to be profitable and sustainable.”

On CAP reform, the consultation response explores piloting the idea of linking farm payments to productivity to help stimulate farm investment and the adoption of new technology for greater efficiency and reduced environmental impact.

The response also pressed for better targeted support for those communities, sectors and individuals that need it most, directed primarily at farming businesses and producers.

The consultation response also highlighted the need for:
• Improvements to infrastructure, transport links and online connectivity to open up access to learning and skills training provision
• Capital grants, advice and guidance to support farm diversification and additional income streams
• ICT and technical innovation, including fast, universal broadband and 4G+ mobile connectivity, to increase productivity and innovation
• Innovative payment mechanisms to reward farmers for making land available for flood storage, whilst minimising loss of agricultural production.

Partners stressed the importance of early certainty on future funding, resources and replacement schemes post-Brexit in order to progress the delivery of the proposed new agricultural policy and environmental land management system, with pace.

Cllr Celia Tibble, Cabinet Member for Environment from Cumbria County Council adds: “The proposals in this consultation to re-base the farm payments system around environmental improvement and the delivery of public goods represents the biggest change to farming subsidies since 1945.

“It is a once in generation opportunity but any change should be implemented and delivered in such a way that fully recognises and takes account of the unique nature of farming in Cumbria. So we need a long-term, holistic approach to supporting rural communities and economies from the Government.”

For further information about the consultation response, please click here.

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