Legal changes to UK agriculture post-Brexit
What changes can the agriculture sector expect as we exit the EU? Craig Harbour takes us through the latest developments.
After much delay and anticipation, the new Agriculture Bill was published in early 2020 to outline how farming will be governed in England after Brexit. The bill brings about several legal changes regarding how farmers will be paid, shifting focus from land ownership to ‘public goods’ such as clean air and water, reduction in pollution and improved animal welfare.
Farmers will be relieved to know the government will maintain current EU levels of funding for agriculture – roughly £3.4bn - for the length of this Parliament. The bill’s contents will be gradually introduced over seven years until the end of 2027 to allow the farming community to adjust.
But what exactly is changing?
New financial support arrangements
The Environmental Land Management Scheme is expected to launch in 2024 as part of the UK’s efforts to tackle climate change. Among other areas, farmers will be rewarded for protecting landscapes and wildlife and minimising environmental hazards.
The new bill also outlines plans to reward farmers for animal welfare enhancements and support investment in new equipment and infrastructure. Public money may also fund research and development projects centred on sustainable food production.
Farmers will additionally be able to receive financial assistance in exceptional circumstances such as extreme weather or a disease outbreak. Such measures could provide further reassurance on top of existing farm and general insurance agreements.
The end of direct payments
The implementation of the Agriculture Bill will see the phasing out of the current direct payment system. Cuts will begin from 2021, with larger reductions applied to higher payment bands. Reduction percentages beyond this will be set based on the status of future schemes and government spending.
The bill also proposes that direct payments for farmers will be ‘delinked’ from any legal requirement to farm the land. These payments could instead be put towards investment in new technology to improve productivity, efforts to diversify and develop new revenue streams, or even retirement from farming altogether.
It’s thought that delinking could present better opportunities for new and existing farmers looking to buy or rent land or expand.
Rural development funding
Any rural development project launched before the end of 2020 will continue to receive government funding throughout the duration of its agreement. Those in Countryside Stewardship agreements also have assurance that such schemes will remain available in the early stages of the bill’s transition period.
Supply chain power
The Agriculture Bill also aims to give farmers more power in the supply chain by offering better access to market data. Combined with legal advice on fair treatment, it’s hoped this information will put them in a better position to make informed business decisions and negotiate with large processors and retailers.
The new bill is being seen by many as a welcome step forward in enabling a balance between food production and the environment. Some, however, are waiting on a legal commitment from the government to prevent international trade deals enforcing lower environmental, food, and animal welfare standards on the UK.