The beginning of May sees the deadline for Kent landowners and farmers to give their views on DEFRA’s ‘Health & Harmony: The Future for Food, Farming and the Environment in a Green Brexit’.
If adopted, the Government’s proposals would see money redirected from direct payments to farmers under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to a new system of paying farmers “public money for public goods”, ie work done to enhance the environment and invest in sustainable
The Government’s intention is to create a more dynamic, more self-reliant agriculture industry.
However, at the same time it intends to phase out the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to farmers by the end of the ‘agricultural transition’ period, which will have an impact on the viability of many farms across the country.
It is right to look at how the BPS is administered as the UK transitions out of the EU. However, the Government’s stated ambition to redirect £150 million before there’s greater clarity on the trading relationship for UK with the rest of the world could be premature.
Farmers are expected to welcome the Government’s recognition of the need for high animal welfare, plant and animal health standards, smarter regulation and enforcement, managing risk and volatility and helping rural communities prosper.
At the heart of the consultation is the aspiration to incentivise methods of farming that “create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions”.
The Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament, which is currently due to run until 2022, but take note, it is clearly looking to change its funding priorities with its emerging aspiration for a Green Brexit. Many already marginal farm businesses are under pressure and the BPS changes could exacerbate the situation.
It takes time to develop new crops, products and markets, and successful trade deals need to be in place quickly so the farming community has the confidence to invest at the earliest opportunity.
Unlike the NHS, the farming community is not seen by the public as a priority for financial support, making it easy for the Government to bring in sweeping, and potentially damaging changes, meaning it is vital the voice of the farming community is heard.
As an industry we already deliver worldleading standards in animal welfare and environmental protection, and we must focus on ensuring farming remains a viable industry for the generations to come. This means we also need to consider the real danger that if subsidies are cut, profitability will be hit further, resulting in more uncertainty and caution.
We have already started to see a greater range of land values. The best quality will still secure a premium price, but sales of lower grade or poorly located land are starting to slow, with prices coming under pressure.
Any government policy that adds further caution will only undermine the viability of our industry, and the nation’s ability to feed itself.