Defra officials sent on farm visits as deregulatory drive promises dramatic cuts in rules and guidance

More than 100 civil servants in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have got their boots muddy in a series of farm visits aimed at improving their understanding of farming.

By Winnie.Agbonlahor

17 Apr 2014

Defra has so far sent 111 officials on farm visits, including two-day ‘walk the chain’ visits for the poultry and dairy industry, and three one-day visits to arable and horticultural farms and an organic dairy farm. Staff also visited Smithfield Market in London.

The visits are part of the ‘Working with the Farming Industry Training Strategy’, which also involves seminars; farmer-led workshops in the dairy, arable, beef, pigs and fruit sectors; and agricultural training courses. It’s designed to improve policy-making and regulation.

Defra officials began participating in training events last year, and more are set to be held. The training days are counting towards every official’s five days of training per year.
Farming minister George Eustice told CSW that the training is set to “change the culture throughout the civil service [in Defra] and get them to really understand things from a farm business point of view”. 

He also said that seeing things “from a practitioner’s point of view and the challenges that farmers face” will help Defra officials cut guidance by 80% by March 2015 – an aim stated in the department’s ‘Better for Business’ report published last week.

Since April 2011, Defra has reviewed more than 1,200 of its regulations: the aim is to delete 350 of these, and simplify or consolidate 428 of them, leaving 452 unchanged.
Asked by CSW whether cutting regulation might create new risks, environment secretary Owen Paterson said the aim is not to “dilute the effectiveness of our regulation – we just want better regulation”.

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