Farmers in England need an increased government budget of at least £4bn a year if they are to deliver meaningful improvements to the environment, CLA president Victoria Vyvyan said in a speech to the organisation’s annual conference.

At the 2023 CLA Rural Business Conference in London, with new Defra Secretary Steve Barclay and Shadow Defra Secretary Steve Reed both in attendance, Victoria said all farmers, including the next generation, need to have confidence that the UK Government will back their ambitions for the environment, nature and food production over the long-term, in the face of rising costs and inflationary pressures.

The current government is committed to spending an average of £2.4bn a year on the farming budget in England across this Parliament, and has spent less than that in each of the last two years. It needs to spend at least £2.7bn this year to hit its own target, and the CLA President urged those in power to go further. She also called on the Welsh Government to increase its budget to £1bn.

The Northern Farmer: Victoria Vyvyan

Opening the sold-out conference at the QEII Centre, Victoria told delegates: “There’s concern and confusion but there’s also excitement in the farming sector. Things are changing and for the next generation that means opportunity.

“We need an undertaking that Defra ministers will go in to bat for an agriculture budget north of £4bn a year in England for the next parliament.

“With this guarantee, businesses young and old can go to the bank with proof of affordability to finance growth, improve margins and confirm a future.”

Victoria outlined how profitable farming can deliver for people and the planet, because it is in the very nature of land managers to deliver solutions.

The CLA has been working ‘robustly but collaboratively’ with Defra to help improve its funding schemes, and Victoria encouraged farmers to apply for support through the likes of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and the Funding in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme.

But rural businesses are being held back by a planning system not fit-for-purpose: “Planning is not working at all and is a serious hindrance to the roll out of rural prosperity.”

Victoria also called for more to be done on rural skills provision. She said: “If we are going to grow the rural economy of the future, we need to engage with secondary education and help businesses to bring on the next generation.”

The Rural Business Conference is the CLA’s flagship annual event, normally attended by ministers, shadow ministers and other industry leaders.