ENVIRONMENT Secretary Michael Gove made a series of positive announcements at the recent National Farmers’ Union conference.

While much attention was focused on the things he had to say about how the system of farm support payments will work once we leave the EU, I was cheered to hear him outline two new measures which I think have great potential to transform the way British farms work in the future.

Both can make a real difference in rebalancing the relationship between farmers and processors/retailers which currently overwhelmingly favours the latter.

The first of those was a collaboration fund of up to £10 million to help farmers and small producers compete and thrive alongside larger businesses in the food supply chain.

The fund will be designed in consultation with the farming industry and will bring together those interested in co-operation. These groups will be supported to formally establish, develop or expand, so that farmers and growers can take advantage of new market opportunities to help their businesses thrive.

During work I did a couple of years ago on the plight of the dairy industry, I discovered that in comparison with other countries, particularly Germany, the UK had very few farm co-ops and because the dairy sector was made up of thousands of small businesses, they had very little bargaining power.

Collaboration between farmers, not just in the dairy sector, can bring substantial economic benefits, enabling farmers to benefit from economies of scale to buy feed and machinery at lower prices, share knowledge and jointly market their produce to negotiate better prices from a position of strength.

The second announcement that caught my eye was that of compulsory milk contracts between producers and purchasers to help protect dairy farmers by setting out clear terms, including the price for the delivery of milk, the timing of deliveries, the duration of the contract, details of payment procedures, and arrangements for collecting and delivering raw milk.

A key benefit of such contracts is transparency and this is also an area I have previously highlighted. We know how much a pint of milk costs in the shops. We know how much a farmer gets paid but what happens between – the margins made by the middlemen - is something of a mystery.

The measures will be designed with the farming industry and apply to farmers and smaller producers in England and are expected to be brought in later this year. The collaboration fund will open for applications later this year.

I was also pleased to hear Mr Gove’s pledge on reducing the burden of regulation and the overly bureaucratic inspection regime farmers currently face. The result of the review he announced should see farmers spending more time farming rather than filling in forms while remaining committed to the animal welfare and plant standards consumers expect.

Finally, I very much welcome his remarks about the massive importance of recognising the role hill farmers, in the Yorkshire Dales and elsewhere, play in maintaining the magnificent, world-renowned landscapes we cherish so much. Preserving profitable farm businesses in these areas, Mr Gove said, is a public good we should all support.