Gove: New Agriculture Bill "to deliver green Brexit"

Defra secretary of state Michael Gove has set out post-Brexit policy "to invest in the environment and take back control for farmers after almost 50 years under EU rules" moving from the CAP scheme which pays farmers £3bn a year for owning land to paying the cash for managing the environment.

Michael Gove
Michael Gove

The Bill details how a new system of "public money for public goods will support a Green Brexit and deliver better environmental outcomes" and a seven year agricultural transition period "which gives farmers time to adjust as they plan for the future".

Legislation "to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations after nearly half a century under EU rules" is being introduced into Parliament on 12 September.

The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for "public goods", such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.

This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which  pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. The top 10% of recipients currently receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%.

In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year. The Government says it will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. Under the new system, farmers and land managers "who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards, laying the foundations for a Green Brexit".

The Bill will "also be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in R&D".

For example, there will be research funding available for farmers for areas such as soil health or sustainable livestock farming.

The Government will also be able to make payments during the seven year transition period for famers to spend on technologies and methods that boost productivity.

Gove said: "The introduction of the Agriculture Bill is an historic moment as we leave the EU and move towards a brighter future for farming.

"After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit.

"This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.

"Critically, we will also provide the smooth and gradual transition that farmers and land managers need to plan ahead."

For 2019, Direct Payments will be made on the same basis as now, subject to simplifications where possible. Direct Payments for 2020 will also be made in much the same way as now. Simplifications will be made as soon as possible, subject to the terms of the overall Brexit implementation period. There will then be an agricultural transition period in England between 2021 and 2027 as payments are gradually phased out.

Most farmers will therefore see some reduction to their payments during the transition, although those who receive the highest payments will see bigger reductions initially. 

Direct Payments during the agricultural transition period up until 2027 will be "delinked" from the requirement to farm the land.

These payments, which may be calculated according to money received in previous years, can be used by farmers to invest in their business, diversify their activities or else retire from farming.

Defra said: "The introduction of the Agriculture Bill now means that all the necessary measures will be in place for the start of the agricultural transition in 2021, delivering a smooth transition to the new domestic policy."


Neil Parish, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: The Committee is launching a short inquiry on the scope, provisions and powers proposed in the Agriculture Bill. The Committee invites written submissions by Monday 8 October 2018.  

Commenting on the introduction of the Bill in the House of Commons today by the Department of Environment, Culture and Rural Affairs, Neil Parish MP said:

"The Agriculture Bill will be a landmark piece of legislation with potential to transform UK farming and commit to environmental protections.

"As Chair of the cross-party EFRA Committee, I look forward to scrutinising the details it contains, and consider what practical implications it will have for the British farming sectors."

NFU President Minette Batters said: "The NFU alongside, the whole food supply chain, has been absolutely clear about the essential ingredients for a progressive, profitable, and sustainable food and farming sector post Brexit. These include comprehensive measures to improve the environment and productivity and tackle volatility alongside free and frictionless trade and access to a competent and reliable workforce. The Bill, as described in the announcemen,t falls short of our aspirations in these regards.

"It is vital that in the future British farmers can continue to meet the food needs of a growing population. A future agricultural policy that ignores food production will be damaging for farmers and the public alike. The public demand and deserve safe, high-quality, traceable affordable food, whatever their income. And moreover they want British farms to supply that food.

"Farmers across the UK will be very concerned that the Bill provides only a short term commitment to improve their competitiveness; we cannot future-proof farming businesses based on the ‘time-limited’ initiatives outlined in this announcement.

"Along with other farmers I will also be looking to the Bill to set out means to address the clear market failure in food chain that means farmers are not rewarded fairly for the risk and investment they make . British farmers will need to compete with farmers all over the world, nearly all of whom are supported financially to produce food. If British farmers are to underpin the nation’s food security, then they will need the right financial and policy framework to do so in a competitive and volatile global marketplace.

"We will look closely at the Government’s proposals for a seven year transition period, during which direct payments will be phased-out, to ensure we’re satisfied that this will be sufficient. In particular, the Bill must provide Government with the powers to pause the process if it is proving unmanageable for farmers, and if our domestic food supply and food security are under threat.

"We are entering an historic period for farming with legislation setting the path for the next generation of farmers and the countryside. With critical decisions still to be taken in the months and years ahead it would be foolhardy for the Government to embark on such a path without knowing trading environment in which it will be set. A free and frictionless trade deal with our biggest trading partner, the EU, is absolutely critical to the farming industry."

All Party Horticulture group and Cider group chairman Ian Liddell-Grainger said the Bill was designed "for the next generation".

Tom MacMillan, Director of Innovations, Soil Association, said: "We welcome confirmation that public money will be aimed at providing public goods, and the focus on soils, water and air quality that this entails, but it is disappointing that human health is not included in the list of goods that should be supported by the taxpayer. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s not the radical rethink of food production that is desperately needed if the government is serious about saving nature, restoring soil health and tackling climate change.

"At this stage, it is hard to determine whether the Environmental Land Management schemes will ensure the comprehensive support farmers need to move from decades of overreliance on agro-chemicals and cheap fossil fuels to a more ecological approach across all our land. The headlines Government has trailed so far fail to mention climate-friendly farming systems such as organic and agroforestry, despite the wealth of scientific evidence showing that organic agriculture is good for wildlife, soil health, water quality, climate change and animal welfare. So far, we have no indication of the level of investment that will go to achieve Government’s aims, but it should be at least at the level farmers receive now – redirected to benefit the environment, nature, farm animals and human health, and secure the viability of farming businesses.

"It’s disappointing that there is no mention of the link between farming, food and public health, despite the call for this to be a top priority from a broad coalition of food, farming and public health experts and practitioners, and, indeed, ‘health and harmony’ being the title of the Government’s own consultation on the future of agriculture.

"The extended transition of 7 years is to be welcomed, giving farmers time and motivation to adopt, although great care must be taken to ensure we see major progress towards nature friendly farming during and after this period. As a partner in the Innovative Farmers programme, we’re delighted to see a commitment to farmer-led research and innovation.

"Over-riding all of this, however, is the widespread consensus that a no-deal or hard Brexit would be catastrophic for food standards, farmers and the environment. Whether the UK stays in a customs union or similar will determine whether farmers have a viable economic future to produce public goods and farmers need a level of certainty the Government has so far failed to provide. There is no chance of today’s proposals delivering a Green Brexit unless politicians start listening to public concerns, farmers, food experts and environmentalists when it comes to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

"It’s clear that there’s a vast amount of detail still to be agreed and we look forward to working with Defra to design a new farm support system fit for the 21st century – one which enhances natural resources, helps mitigate and adapt to climate change, allows other species to flourish and produces a wide range of nutritious foods."

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West and member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, said: "Greens have led the call for direct payments to be scrapped in favour of "public money for public goods". But it is vital that these public goods reflect the needs of the environment and serve the public in terms of improved health and wellbeing. This has to mean moving farming away from the intensive, chemical-dependent farming that has decimated our wildlife over the past 70 years.

"It is also clear that Michael Gove’s flagship policy doesn’t stand alone. Access to market has a far greater impact on the viability of farms than the subsidies they receive, which is where Brexit still poses a fundamental threat. The National Audit Office has today warned that the UKs food export industry could be at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"Meanwhile, extreme Brexiteers within the Tory Party have their sights set on securing trade deals which will undermine the high food and animal welfare standards that both farmers and consumers are used to. Such deals could lead to a flood of cheaper and lower quality foods entering the UK, which our farmers would struggle to compete with. 

"Many farmers I am talking to have changed their minds about Brexit. They are realising they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of exiting the EU, and particularly to leaving the single market. As the realities of Brexit become ever clearer to farming communities across the country the popularity of the idea of a People’s Vote grows by the day."

Martin Lines, Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network said: "This Agricultural Bill is a fair deal for farmers and the tax payer. Investing in a land management plan that pays farmers for providing environmental benefits means farmers can adapt to more sustainable farming practices and deliver the nation’s food not just for today, but for generations to come.

 "Finally, Defra recognise that the past CAP did not work for the farmer, the countryside or the public. It is crucial now that this Bill provides long term certainty on future funding, and that it improves transparency in the supply chain so that farmers can get a fair return for their products, and demonstrates that British farmers produce food at standards we can be proud of.

"It will be challenging for some to adapt, but many farmers have been leading the way for years and want to produce great food from a countryside bursting with wildlife. This Bill is a crucial first step towards a better future for farmers and nature"

It has been revealed that the Scottish Parliament have rejected plans to be included Defra’s Agricultural Bill. This could be extremely bad news for farmers who agree with the new policy and want to see the environment put first.

Michael Clarke, Scotland Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network said:  "Publication of the new Agriculture Bill today brings clarity and certainty about the way forward for farmers in England, who will be able to take back control and invest in a more sustainable future for their businesses and deliver a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations. The NFFN believes that Scotland likewise needs a long term, stable policy framework which will support a Green Brexit and deliver better environmental outcomes at the same time as supporting sustainable food production; and calls on the Scottish Government to make its position clear, so that Scottish farmers and the public do not have to watch as their neighbours south of the Border build a better countryside and a stronger rural economy for future generations".



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