The vice president of the National Farmers Union has called for a “sober” debate on fuel vs food following comments made by the environment secretary that UK farmland was being “wasted” and “blighted by solar farms”.

Speaking at a joint meeting with the APPG on Science and Technology in Agriculture and the APPG of Beef and Lamb entitled ‘The solar harvest – new opportunities for UK agriculture’, Guy Smith VP of the NFU told the audience that he was “proud to take the title of a solar farmer” after installing a solar farm across a 40-acre site as his farm in Essex.

Smith said: “When I look at this tension between food and fuel I think we need to have more sober considerations amongst this concern about our landscape being blotted by, what is seen by some people, as unmentionable and ugly solar panels.

“I do think that, as a solar farmer – and I’m proud to take that title – that I’m contributing to this nation’s commitment to produce renewable energy at a certain level by 2020. I also think that, if society expects of me as a farmer to deliver elements of biodiversity, I can tweak the management of the solar farm to deliver biodiversity. That is another thing that you can deliver alongside renewable energy and amongst that solar farm we have permission for grazing where we can produce lamb between those panels.”

Farmers' representatives talk to Solar Power Portal about the agricultural use of solar farm land:

On Sunday, environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss announced that payments under the CAP for land underneath solar farms will cease in the New Year. She said: “English farmland is some of the best in the world and I want to see it dedicated to growing quality food and crops. I do not want to see its productive potential wasted and its appearance blighted by solar farms. Farming is what our farms are for and it is what keeps our landscape beautiful.”

Reacting to the minister’s comments, Smith said: “When I heard the Secretary of State yesterday eulogising about the importance on farmland, I can’t but welcome it when she says: ‘English farmland is some of the best in the world and I want to see it dedicated to growing food and crops.’ We welcome the tone and content of that, we’d especially like to see it remembered when it comes to proposals for HS2 mitigation.”

Smith continued: “When it was proposed in my local patch that we could have a solar farm, a journalist was onto me quite quickly to explore the tension between my role as a farmer and renewable energy production.

“I did point out to him that ‘why did he get so excited about 40-acres of Essex farmland on my farm when 4,000 acres of Essex of farmland had just been flooded on Wallasea Island. We need to get this into perspective: Wallasea Island has been producing crops since the reign of Henry VIII and it’s now succumbed to the North Sea and will never ever be farmed again, whereas my 40 acres of land that is destined to be a solar farm can of course be reverted back to agricultural use in the future,” concluded Smith.