Agriculture Bill – What could it mean for landowners and farmers?
With the UK transitioning out of the European Union, all eyes will be focused on the progress towards agreeing a trade deal before the end of December.
Our attention must be on the Agriculture Bill, which the Government hopes to have in place by the spring to allow the country to develop its own agricultural policy.
Change is the only certainty; the challenge will be assessing the implications for landowners and farmers at the earliest opportunity.
Word from No 10 is that there’ll be no extension to the implementation period, putting pressure on both sides to agree a trade deal. Whatever your position on Brexit, one thing is clear – this will be the first time in WTO history that two parties previously enjoying unrestricted free trade in goods and services will seek to erect barriers and impose tariffs. It is likely that landowners and farmers will be directly caught up in the ramifications of the deal, or no deal.
The Government’s aim is to bring coherence to the country’s agriculture policy rather than arbitrary area-based payments. Where land ownership and tenure are subsidised, the idea is to bring in a system of direct future funding to support activities. The intention is to deliver environmental improvements and enhance animal welfare. The Government also wants a package of incentives to support sustainable farming practices and believes its Bill will create the powers to do this.
Importantly, the Bill makes the connection between domestic food production and the nation’s food security, creating a five-yearly duty to review food security and to consider the production of food when devising policy.
While many in our industry will recognise the need to foster a sustainable carbon-neutral future for farming, the challenge will be how we do this without undermining the economic viability of our land.
The Environmental Land Management Scheme, which is expected to be a centrepiece of the Bill, will link the future payment system of public monies to the delivery of what the Government is calling ‘public goods’.
Much has been made in the press about the possible outcome of a trade deal with the US in terms of animal welfare and food standards. The other challenge must be how to hold the Government to its commitment of not prejudicing or jeopardising our existing standards.
It would seem nonsensical to develop a comprehensive suite of policies to support domestic food producers only to undermine farmers’ efforts by allowing imports of lower standards.
The trade policy mustn’t be separated from the agricultural policy – they must be coherent and consistent.
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