FARMING leaders are calling for “levelling up” of rural areas to boost green growth, with action on broadband, the planning system and tackling crime.

British farming and rural areas can help the country recover from Covid-19, drive sustainable food production and ensure access to green space to benefit people’s mental health, a National Farmers’ Union (NFU) report said.

But a growing rural urban divide must be addressed in areas including connectivity and broadband provision, funding to tackle crimes that harm the countryside, and a planning system that hampers farm modernisation and diversification, it added.

The report was being released as the NFU staged its annual conference – taking place online because of the pandemic – which will hear from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Environment Secretary George Eustice.

In her speech to the conference, NFU president Minette Batters will say: “Investment in farming and in rural Britain not only brings about obvious benefits to food production but can have massive benefits to the whole country.

“If the past 12 months has taught us one thing, it’s that we are all in this together – and a country which levels up everyone, everywhere, is a stronger country.

“Levelling up Britain is not just a north and south issue. Levelling up Britain is also a rural and urban issue.

“We need to enable collaborative green growth to level up rural Britain, providing the economic solutions to a truly one-nation UK.”

Rural areas need better broadband and mobile phone coverage so people can run successful businesses, including farms, and the farm shops, wedding venues and B&Bs that many farmers have diversified into, the report said.

The countryside receives less in police funding per head than towns and cities, with an estimated £167 per person in 2018/19, compared with £206 in urban areas, the NFU report said.

But rural areas have increasingly become the targets of criminals, with hare coursing, fly-tipping, dog attacks on livestock, and machinery thefts hitting farm businesses.

Rural crime must be treated as a priority issue by Government, and there should also be ambitions for a nationwide ban on sky lanterns, which pose a fire risk and can harm farm animals and wildlife, the report urged.

Improvements to the planning system are needed so farm businesses can construct the right buildings to make them more sustainable, cut their environmental footprint and provide jobs and homes.

Because of the contribution access to green space makes to the nation’s physical and mental health, farmers’ efforts to look after rights of way should be rewarded through the new farm funding schemes – and the Countryside Code must be adhered to and updated for the 21st century.

British farming can also become a leader in sustainable, climate-friendly food production, the report said.

But farmers need to be able to use technology and innovation, including new breeding techniques, and be involved in water management to make sure they have access to water in droughts and are protected from floods.

Any natural flood management initiatives, which can include planting trees, reintroducing beavers and restoring wetlands, must have appropriate incentives and involve farmers at every stage of their development, the report added.