Strengthened powers to tackle supply chain unfairness have been included in the new Agriculture Bill, which returned to Parliament this week.
The original legislation only allowed the Government to regulate contracts between farmers and first purchasers such as processors and abattoirs, but the new Bill will cover all sellers of agricultural produce.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is still being considered as the body to police any potential fair dealing breaches, as set out in the old Bill, but a number of other options for this role are now being looked at too.
Vicki Hird, farm campaign co-ordinator at Sustain, said: “We are very pleased to see the Government maintain the commitments on regulating the supply chain in order to drive out unfair practices which harm farmers here and overseas, limit their options for investing in sustainable practices and lead to food waste.
“They have amended the Bill text to take account of our concerns, so the new codes can cover a range of issues.
“We look forward to seeing the detail on how this will be delivered and enforced.”
Other changes to the legislation include a specific namecheck for soil on the face of the Bill, so farmers can be paid for ‘protecting or improving its quality’.
This could include providing financial assistance for soil monitoring programmes or soil health research.
Last year, farmers reacted angrily to the news they would not be paid for improving soil health under the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) due to Defra’s categorisation of healthy soil as a ‘natural asset’, not a ‘public good’.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “This Agriculture Bill has been a long time coming, but it is clear the Government has listened to CPRE’s message about the importance of soil.
“Healthy soil is essential for the supply of healthy food, clean water and also helps us lock up carbon to tackle the climate and nature emergency.”
The new Bill also gives the Secretary of State responsibility for monitoring all financial assistance schemes for farmers, as well as creating a new legal requirement for regular food security audits, as reported by Farmers Guardian last week.
The legislation was introduced just days after the Farm Payments Bill began its journey through Parliament.
This Bill will allow the Government to continue to pay farm subsidies in 2020, and is expected to be passed by the end of January.