Last month brought with it the introduction of the new Agriculture Bill under which farming policy will be formulated for years to come.
The current system of direct payments will be phased out over seven years with a new system of “public money for public goods” to be put in place. One can but hope that the new system when introduced will be simpler in terms of both application and administration.
You would be hard put to find anyone who would argue against the need to look after the environment, but does the new Bill go far enough in terms of also supporting farmers and the need to have a profitable and sustainable farming sector?
The timescale of payments under the new Agriculture Bill
For 2019, direct payments will be made on the same basis as now, subject to simplifications where possible. These payments will be funded from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
From 2020, direct payments whilst being broadly similar in terms of processes and payments being made, will be funded by the UK as by that stage we will no longer be part of the CAP.
2021 is when the transitional arrangements in England will commence and from 2027 direct payments will become a thing of the past. Reductions of payments are inevitable. There are various different options being proposed as to how those reductions will take place. It seems inevitable that whichever one or a combination of more than one is chosen, those who claim the largest payments will initially face the larger reductions.
The money saved by reducing the direct payments will be put towards environmental land management schemes under which the payments for providing the “public goods” will be made. The payments will not be linked to farming the land.
According to the government the Bill will supposedly also be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in research and development. However, it has been questioned as to whether the Bill goes far enough in this.
Of course until our way of exiting the EU is finalised the government cannot really make any firm commitments. Regardless of that, the time between now and the inevitable reduction of direct payments should be used to continue with the process of planning for a future, one of a thriving and profitable business which is less reliant upon public funds for survival.