The Agriculture Bill has now been passed into UK law, representing a “landmark moment” for post-Brexit farming, say industry leaders.
Introduced to Parliament in January this year, the bill provides a boost to industry after years of “inefficient and overly bureaucratic policy dictated to farmers by the EU”, helping farmers to stay competitive, increase productivity, invest in new technology and seek a fairer return from the marketplace.
The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in the future with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, thriving wildlife, soil health, or measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change, under the Environmental Land Management scheme. These incentives will provide a powerful vehicle for achieving the goals of the government’s 25-year Environment Plan and the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Beginning next year, this new system will replace the poorly targeted Basic Payment Scheme subsidy system, which largely pays farmers for the total amount of land farmed and has skewed payments towards the largest landowners, rather than rewarding farmers for any specific public benefits.
At the same time, the Bill includes measures designed to support farmers and land managers to boost their productivity, and ultimately maximise the potential of our land to produce high quality food in a more sustainable way.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said:
“Our landmark Agriculture Act will transform the way we support farmers.
The funds released as a result of the phasing out of the legacy Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) will be re-invested into a roll out of our future farming policy, which will be centred around support aimed at incentivising sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of new woodland and other ecosystem services to help tackle challenges like climate change.
We will support farmers in reducing their costs and improving their profitability, to help those who want to retire or leave the industry to do so with dignity, and to create new opportunities and support for new entrants coming in to the industry.”
The government will report on UK food security to Parliament every three years. The first report will be published at the end of next year, and will include analysis of the impacts on food supply of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a wide range of themes including global availability of food, food safety and consumer confidence.
In order to spend more of the annual budget for agriculture on boosting productivity and environmental benefits, Direct Payments will be phased out over an agricultural transition period, starting with the 2021 Basic Payment Scheme year and running until the end of 2027, allowing farmers and land managers time to adapt to the new approach and consider which component of the new Environmental Land Management scheme will work best for their farm.
Farmers and land managers will also be able to apply for alternative support during this time, with productivity grants on offer next year and with Countryside Stewardship schemes remaining open to new applications in the first few years of the agricultural transition period.
NFU President Minette Batters said:
“As the first domestic legislation covering agriculture for over 70 years, this really is a landmark moment for our food and farming industry. simply put, the Agriculture Act will set how we farm in this country for generations to come.
Getting to this point has not been easy. Two years ago when the Bill was first published, the clear absence of food production and food security troubled many. The NFU made the case at the highest levels of government that this piece of legislation needed to recognise the role of farmers as food producers and I am pleased it now does that much more robustly.”
Further details are due to be published later this month.