2020 has been a challenging year for farmers, but with the end of the transition period, changes to direct payments and new trade deals on the horizon, 2021 may bring further hardship, says Conservative peer Anne McIntosh.
In a crunch week for negotiations on our future relationship with the EU, all eyes are on whether an agreement can be reached.
The shock of a no-deal Brexit on top of the current coronavirus crisis will be difficult for the economy to withstand.
The long-term economic impact effects of not reaching an EU-UK trade agreement could be two or three times worse than those of Covid.
Parliament is considering legislation to prepare for the end of the transition period.
Having passed the Agriculture Act setting a framework for future farm payments, we are now looking at Government proposals for creating an internal market for the UK.
This Bill is based on the principles of mutual reciprocity and non-discrimination and aims to ensure that the markets of the four nations will function smoothly having left the EU.
A Bill approving the terms of any agreement with the EU will have to pass through both Houses of Westminster, the national parliaments of the EU27 and the European Parliament.
While direct payments are being phased out in England, with the new ELMs not coming into effect until 2024, the Scottish Government in contrast has announced it will maintain direct payments for now, leading to potential distortions north and south of the border.
The Spending Review has set out details of the Shared Prosperity Fund which will replace EU structural funds, to the tune of up to the £1.5 billion a year to match EU receipts.
The recent statement from the Defra Secretary that, given the current challenges facing sheep farmers, they should consider switching to beef production, has set a few hares running.
The statement reflects a lack of understanding of the impact on hill farmers of the potential loss of their market, as though farmers could just switch overnight from sheep to beef production.
2021 could potentially be an especially challenging year.
It will bring the end of the transition period and a gap in funding, with existing payments and stewardship schemes being scaled down at pace, and a four-year delay before the new Environmental Land Management scheme comes into effect in England; new trade deals to be negotiated with the USA, Australia and New Zealand; a greater emphasis on environmentally friendly farming rather than active food production and potential border checks and controls wreaking havoc on perishable goods such as foodstuffs.
It behoves politicians at every level to support farmers however we can: local authorities sourcing more food locally for schools, hospitals and prisons, boosting import substitution nationally, trying to encourage a level playing field and fair competition, discouraging tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
For farmers to lose unfettered access to their largest and closest market of the EU, with potential tariffs and other barriers to sheep and other exports, we are even more dependent on a good deal being struck with the EU on our future relations.
Anne can be found tweeting at @AnneCMcIntosh