The government has pledged to prioritise rural interests as part of its long-awaited levelling up agenda, with a new £110m fund set to help countryside communities.
The announcement is included in Delivering for Rural England, an annual report which sets out how the government is working to level up rural areas and rural proof policies.
The report includes information on the Rural England Prosperity Fund, with up to £110m to be made available for capital grants for farmers and other businesses to support growth.
This could include farm businesses looking to diversify by opening a farm shop, wedding venue or tourism facilities or improvements to village halls, pubs and other rural hubs for community uses.
The report has also reviewed the 12 levelling up missions through a rural lens, with Defra pledging to work alongside other government departments to ensure that the delivery of levelling up works for rural communities.
Defra said it would train civil servants on rural proofing to ensure that Whitehall colleagues, including MPs, are versed on the challenges and opportunities of rural policy.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Greg Clark MP said: "This major investment in rural businesses will help us boost the countryside economy and close the rural productivity gap.
"It’s our mission to spread opportunity across the whole of the UK and this funding will help us do just that."
Responding to the announcement, NFU President Minette Batters said it was 'encouraging' to see the government making an effort to level up the countryside.
“It’s also promising that the government is looking at its levelling up goals through a rural lens and training civil servants on rural proofing," she said.
"This will help ensure levelling up policies work for those living and working in rural areas, in turn, enabling rural communities to deliver even more when it comes to producing climate-friendly food, providing greater access to the British countryside and contributing to the national economy."
But Mrs Batters said the government must now take greater accountability for levelling up rural areas, as policies around digital connectivity, transport and housing were just as important to rural areas as they were to urban ones.
"A specific rural taskforce... would help keep rural needs at the forefront of all levelling up policy-making, enabling rural areas to maximise the opportunities these policies are intended to provide.”
Country Land and Business Association (CLA) President Mark Tufnell added that the UK government was "finally showing some ambition" for the countryside.
Improving productivity in the rural economy could add up to £43bn in gross value added – so the £110m fund would be money well spent, he said.
“In the midst of an economic crisis, we need a robust and ambitious plan to create economic growth in the countryside. The government has today taken its first steps towards delivering it.
“We now need to see the true detail. Rural business owners are working hard to succeed and are determined to create prosperity across our communities.
"But we need this report to deliver genuine planning reform, full connectivity and a cross-departmental policy framework from government that reflects the sheer potential of the rural economy."