Agriculture

Gove launches long-awaited Agriculture Bill

EU Direct Payments will be phased out over seven years, with lump sums of cash given to farmers to develop their businesses

Michael Gove has launched a new Agriculture Bill designed to “take back control” of British farming and deliver a “green Brexit”.
According to the Bill EU subsidies will be phased out over a seven-year period to give farmers time to adjust, with Direct Payments ending in 2027.
A new Environmental Land Management system will start in 2019, gradually replacing EU Direct Payments, with farmers working together with government to develop and trial the new approach. Direct Payments will continue as normal until 2020, while the government has committed to matching CAP funding levels until 2022.
The scheme reveals how farmers and land managers will be paid instead for “public goods”, as suggested earlier in the year, such as creating better air and water quality, soil health and higher animal standards.
Announcing the Agriculture Bill, Gove said the new policy heralds a “brighter future” for the farming industry. But head of the NFU Minette Batters, has already said it “falls short”.
“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 After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit,” Gove said.
“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.”
As the direct payments are phased out funds will be released to farmers for environmental incentives, as well as technological investment. The scheme also represents a funding cut for farmers, with the top recipients of direct payments, of £150,000 or more losing 25 per cent of their subsidies.
‘Short-term policy’
Batters said the bill did not provide a clear route to boosting Britain’s agricultural competitiveness however, describing it as a short-term policy.
“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 announcement falls short of our aspirations in these regards.
“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.
Batters said the Bill must include powers to halt or change the scheme if it is proving unmanageable for farmers.
Food and health groups were also critical of the bills failure to mention nutritional and supply chain concerns.
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation said: “Linking public payments directly to public goods promises to protect our environment more effectively than the current subsidy system. But the primary purpose of farming is to produce food, and it’s critical that the Agriculture Bill acknowledges the dietary crisis from which the UK is currently suffering. This Bill has the potential to protect the environment, but it also needs to support better eating – it must not miss the opportunity to incentivise the production of nutritious, affordable food.”
Sustain’s chief executive Kath Dalmeny said: “It sounds like Michael Gove has missed the chance to create new powers to tackle unfair supply chains, bad trade policies or ensure workers are protected. We’ll be calling for the bill to be amended.”