NFU Conference: PM unveils new farm support worth nearly £430m

Rishi Sunak announced a £220 million package of funding for technology and innovation (Photo: NFU)
Rishi Sunak announced a £220 million package of funding for technology and innovation (Photo: NFU)

The prime minister has announced a package of grant support worth nearly £430m to help farmers with productivity and technology.

Rishi Sunak unveiled the support at today's (20 February) NFU Conference, where he told delegates at Birmingham’s ICC “I’ve got your back”.

He announced that the government will open the largest ever grant offer for farmers in the coming financial year, expected to total £427m, including funding for technology and productivity schemes.

Around £220m will be injected into the future-focused technology and productivity schemes to ensure farmers can invest in automation.

It will also fund energy measures, such as rooftop solar, to safeguard land for food production, the prime minister confirmed.

The funding doubles investment in productivity schemes, growing the grant offer from £91m last year to £220m next year to keep up with demand.

In the speech, which is the first time since 2008 that a prime minister has addressed the NFU conference, Mr Sunak said: “While the importance of farmers will never change – farming is going through its biggest change in a generation.

"They have been dealing with soaring global prices in things like fuel and fertiliser. We’ve been working hard to get inflation down – from 11.1% last year to 4% now.

"And while thanks to you we enjoy good quality food all year-round global events – including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – have put food security back at the top of the agenda.

"We’ll never take our food security for granted. We’ve got a plan to support British farming – and we’re going further again today.”

Mr Sunak confirmed that the government will double the Management Payment for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) so those with existing agreements will receive up to an extra £1,000 this April.

It will be extended to Countryside Stewardship mid-tier for the first year of agreements starting by March 2025, meaning that the 11,000 farmers who have applied for SFI will receive that top up this spring.

The prime minister also announced a new annual UK-wide Food Security Index to capture and present the data needed to monitor levels of food security, and a £15m fund to help tackle food waste from the farm gate.

It follows industry campaigning on the importance of food security with more than 45,000 members of the public calling on the government to take action.

NFU President Minette Batters said the Food Security Index was a 'significant' move. "When we left the EU we were told the Agriculture Bill would be five-yearly reporting," she said.

"It was a real battle to get it to every three years. The good thing about annual reporting focusing on the UK is it means we will be measuring more often, allowing us to monitor the situation, and can see if we have a problem and do something about it.

“I hope all parties commit to hosting a domestic food security summit each year. Annual assessments will be critical to all of this."

During his speech, Mr Sunak also said he wanted to change the culture by cutting red tape around permitted development rights so farmers can develop buildings and diversify their businesses.

He announced new regulations set to be laid in parliament for the dairy sector, ensuring they have reasonable and transparent contracts.

Similar regulations for the pig sector will come later this year, with the egg sector expected to follow.

A new supply chain fairness review of the poultry sector is also set to be launched, Mr Sunak said, and Defra is expected to consult stakeholders on whether the sheep and beef sectors should follow.