The food that is produced within a country should never be taken for granted by elected politicians, the leader of the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) has said.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Caroline van der Plas opened her address by stating that oxygen, water and food are “the three basic needs in life”.

“I say to British politicians, cherish your farmers. They make one of our three basic needs, and that is food. Make sure those farmers can produce their food,” she said.

Van der Plas acknowledged that food must be produced within environmental rules, although she suggested increased regulation of agriculture was driving farmers out of the sector.

She added that financial pressure, along with criticism by the media and public, were other key factors making farmers stop production.

“Every farmer that is gone is not coming back. There is no one who is going to invest hundreds, thousands, or millions of pounds to start a farm, when they are not being recognised for the things they do,” she said.

Van der Plas argued that a “critical mass” of farmers was needed within a country to ensure a secure supply of food, and to let production fall below this level would be “a very dangerous situation”.

She said that food imports are needed for products that cannot be grown locally, although she strongly warned that an over-reliance on imports will impact food security.

“If we can produce it ourselves, why should we import it? If a time comes where a country says, ‘we cannot provide you any more because we need it for our people because of drought, flooding or war’. Do we realise then that we need our farmers to produce our food to feed our people?”

The annual Oxford Farming Conference took place at the University of Oxford last week.

Political force

Since it was formed in 2019, the pro-farmer BBB has become an important political force in the Netherlands and the party is currently in talks about being part of a coalition government.

In a questions session at Oxford last week, van der Plas was asked how farmers in other countries could increase their political clout and become more effective at getting their voice heard.

“Farmers tend to debate amongst themselves. All these debates amongst each other are just useless. It is useless because you all make food. Stop quarrelling and unite. Express that message: ‘We are your food producers’,” she responded.

Payment rates rise for English farmers

A key announcement at last week’s Oxford Farming Conference was that payment rates for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) in England are being increased.

It comes in response to concerns that inadequate payment rates are leading to a low uptake of the scheme and farm incomes are subsequently being squeezed as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) in England is gradually phased out.

As part of a transition to more environmentally focused farm support, cuts are being applied to all BPS payments in England over a seven-year period, with a minimum cut of 50% applying in 2024.

The UK government’s Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the new changes to ELMS will see payment rates increase by 10% on average.

“[We are] making it more attractive for you to get involved. Those already in schemes will automatically benefit from this uplift,” he said.

Payment rates for some specific actions under ELMS will see a significant jump. For example, maintaining species-rich grassland is rising from £182/ha to £646/ha.

More options are also being added to ELMS in a bid to increase scheme uptake, with Barclay stating that “around 50 new actions” will be available under the scheme in the summer.

The pro-farmer BBB party has become an important political force in the Netherlands.


However, it remains unclear if all the money that is being saved by cutting BPS payments will make its way back to English farmers through ELMS.

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters asked Barclay at Oxford if the government will publish impact assessments about how the changes will affect farm incomes and food security in England.

“I want to get on with stuff. My caution is that the more commissions for paperwork, the more decisions will be delayed,” Barclay responded.


Another announcement from the Environment Secretary last week was the UK government will launch “a rapid consultation” which aims to improve rules around food labelling.

“Too often products produced to lower welfare standards overseas aren’t clearly labelled to differentiate them,” Barclay said.