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Agriculture Bill 2018
As we enter the last quarter of the year, the uncertainties and questions surrounding Brexit are looming. The farming communities were, at least, provided with some answers on 12 September when the government published the much awaited Agriculture Bill 2018.
The Bill seeks to address the policies that the government will adopt for farming when the UK leaves the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In particular, it provides the government with new financial assistance powers, which shape the way in which subsidies will be paid.
Currently, subsidies are paid under the Direct Payments Regulations. This dates back almost 50 years and has been criticised as being dated and ineffective. As it pays farmers based on the amount of land owned, it favours the largest landowners regardless of how intensively the land is actually farmed. Notwithstanding this, earlier in September, the government committed to maintaining the current total payments until the end of the existing Parliament (2022), even in the event of a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit.
So how does this differ from the new proposals? The Agriculture Bill places a much greater emphasis on paying public money by rewarding the benefits that farming gives back to the public, and working towards improving the environment. The examples that have been given include providing financial assistance: to protect the environment by improving water and air standards, soil health and animal welfare; for activities to mitigate climate change; to provide the public with greater access to the countryside; and to implement measures that reduce flood risks.
The new scheme will also introduce the Environmental Land Management system to oversee the policies, which will be trialled with farmers as soon as 2019.
The Bill states that financial assistance can be provided through various methods including one-off payments, loans and grants, rather than just periodically as is currently the case. Whilst we do not know precisely how this will work in practice, the Bill makes it clear that the Direct Payments will be phased out over a seven year transitional period from 2021. It is anticipated that all farmers will see some reduction in the payments they receive, with the large landowners being affected the most. In addition to this, during the transitional period payments will be ‘delinked’ from the requirement to farm the land, which the government has suggested will give farmers an opportunity to diversify or step down for the next generation to take over.
As to be expected, reactions to the Bill have been mixed and, of course, we still need substantially more information to flesh out the bare bones of the Bill. Until then, all we have is a brief glimpse to what farming could look like in 2028.
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