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Coronavirus has shown the move away from BPS should be delayed by one year

With the ongoing health crisis and many farm businesses experiencing cash flow issues, the phase out of BPS should be delayed by one year, says Neil Parish, chair of the Efra Select Committee.

In my last Brexit Hub column, back in late January, we were settling into the new Parliament.

 

I had just been re-elected Efra Select Committee chairman and we were days from officially leaving the EU.

 

This was a pre-Covid world.

 

Ever since, this global pandemic has dominated our personal and political lives. We have all had to adapt, from home-working to virtual Parliament and electronic voting too.

 

Inquiry

 

On the Efra Committee, we have set up an inquiry into Covid-19 and the food supply.

 

This week, we took public evidence via Zoom from the NFU, AHDB and British Growers Association.

 

We have also been holding regular briefings with Defra, taking evidence on the key issues.

 

As many of you will know, George Eustice is our new Secretary of State since the February reshuffle.

 

I have known him a long time now. He is excellent on the detail and it is great to have a former farmer at the top of Defra.

 

Support

 

But his in-tray will be huge. Not only is urgent support needed from dairy farming to the horticulture sector, we have Brexit to get on with.

 

I know negotiations are continuing apace. Whether we can strike an acceptable deal, though, is yet to be seen.

 

Up and down the country, farm businesses are anxious to see access to the EU market retained.

 

We also want to see the UK Government stepping up in other areas, like expanding trade to new markets in South East Asia and the USA.

 

The correct balance must be struck – and I will be watching carefully.

 

Standards

 

One of the things I am most determined to see is imports meeting our domestic standards.

 

I am working through the Select Committee and with colleagues across the House to amend the Agriculture Bill along these lines.

 

Dealing with Covid-19, whether it has been workforce absences or demand shocks, has been a tough ask for many farm businesses.

 

But I hope it has shown the Government how important food security is – and they will reflect on the direction of travel in the Agriculture Bill.

 

Another issue which has been brought to the fore is our reliance on seasonal labour.

 

Harvest

 

I am glad the new Pick for Britain website is up and running ahead of this year’s harvest.

 

But we are already seeing stories of Brits rejecting or leaving these jobs.

 

Working on a farm is tough and perhaps the Government, in light of this season, will look again at the extent of our Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.

 

Finally, as we leave the EU, there is also the small matter of transitioning to the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

 

Delayed

 

My position is quite clear on this. It should be delayed by one year.

 

The transition away from direct payments under the EU scheme is currently scheduled for 2021, with ELMs rolled out in 2024.

 

Anyone who has dealt with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) over the years knows large-scale administrative changes do not happen easily.

 

With the ongoing health crisis and many farm businesses experiencing cash flow issues, we need the RPA to be an agency of support rather than change and hindrance in the coming year.

 

Neil can be found tweeting at @neil_parish

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