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The 2020s are coming - find out what is in store for farming over the next ten years

As the country enters a new decade, Abi Kay and Lauren Dean set out the main issues farmers are likely to face in the 2020s. 

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The 2020s are coming - find out what is in store for farming over the next ten years

Move away from direct payments

The move away from direct payments is one of the biggest changes farmers can expect in the 2020s.


In England and Wales, the plan is to switch to ‘public money for public goods’ schemes in the early part of the decade, while in Scotland, a simplified Basic Payment Scheme will be maintained until 2024.


With Strutt and Parker research showing net profit for the average English farmer will fall by half over the next 10 years, even if environmental payments double, there are concerns that the money available as part of the new schemes will not plug the gap left by withdrawal of direct support.


A CLA spokesman said: “The new scheme represents perhaps the biggest change in agricultural policy in almost 50 years.


“For a long time the CLA has advocated a policy which incentivises land managers to deliver public goods like creating new habitats for wildlife, action to improve soil quality and delivering high standards of animal welfare.


“But this policy will only succeed if it sits alongside a clear plan for supporting profitable farming.”

Trade deal with the EU

The deal the UK secures with the EU will dictate the rest of the country’s trade policy. The Conservatives now have to make a decision about whether or not to stay broadly aligned to EU rules and regulations.


And the Prime Minister has not given himself long to get a new agreement, promising to legislate to block any extension of the transition period which ends in December 2020.


NFU Brexit director Nick von Westenholz said: “It will be enormously challenging to reach an agreement by the end of 2020, but with hard work, clarity of purpose and goodwill on both sides, it can be done.


“Nevertheless, putting a hard deadline of just over a year for the end of these negotiations once again raises the prospect of trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms if agreement cannot be reached.


“That would mean huge tariffs being imposed from January 2021 on much of the food we sell into the EU, as well as other checks and delays which will mean increased costs for food and farming businesses.”

Trade with the rest of the world

As well as securing a new trade agreement with the EU, the Conservative manifesto promised deals would be negotiated with the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the next three years.


The farming community has major concerns that agricultural, environmental and animal welfare standards could be undermined in the pursuit of these agreements.


In the last Parliament, the Conservatives refused to commit to protecting these standards in law.


Vicki Hird, sustainable farming campaign co-ordinator at Sustain, said: “We have really had sufficient ‘promises’ from this Government on trade.


“We now need concrete, legal routes to ensure our higher standards are not undermined by cheap imports, as this puts all other work to ensure a sustainable food system at threat.


“The risk to our food and health, farmers, animal welfare and the environment from these four deals, which we and many others have been flagging for years, remain a clear and present danger until this is in place.”

Climate change

With England and Wales pledging to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and Scotland five years ahead of that, 2045, there is no doubt the farming industry will have to make some major changes over the coming years.


The NFU has also set out a roadmap to achieve net zero emissions for the sector by 2040.


This plan is centred on three pillars – improving farming’s productive efficiency, enabling more food to be produced with fewer inputs, boosting carbon storage in soils and vegetation and increasing production of renewable energy.


NFU president Minette Batters said: "British farmers aspire to be producing the most climate friendly food in the world.


“We mean what we say about delivering against our net zero aspiration and we have a sense of urgency for what is needed to achieve it.


“I am also very clear that we can deliver on our commitment to net zero while retaining, if not growing, our agricultural capacity.


“We must avoid anything which undermines UK food production and merely exports our greenhouse gas emissions to other parts of the world.”

Loss of crop protection products

The past few years have seen several products banned by the EU, including neonicotinoids, diquat, thiram and pymetrozine.


A UK ban on metaldehyde in December 2018 was only overturned by the High Court after Chiltern Farm Chemicals lodged a legal challenge.


And in other EU countries, such as Austria and Germany, glyphosate is next in line to be taken off the market.


But there may be an opportunity with Brexit to move to a more risk-based approach to crop protection.


Crop Protection Association said: “Simply aligning the UK to EU rules would perpetuate known problems, which are likely to deteriorate further without UK participation.

“We are calling for 'Managed Divergence', whereby existing regulatory approaches and environmental standards will be maintained and new developments monitored and implemented accordingly.”

Changing diets

The drive to get people to eat less meat shows no sign of slowing, and is only likely to accelerate in the 2020s.


Henry Dimbleby, the man charged with heading up the Government’s Food Strategy, has already said his team are considering the ‘issue of meat’.


Reports such as EAT Lancet, which suggested drastically cutting meat consumption and was rubbished by industry bodies, will be used to shape future food policies.


And supermarket giant Tesco has pledged to ‘play its part’ in reducing meat consumption.


Nathan Ward, business unit director of meat, fish and poultry at Kantar, said: “As a nation, our diets are changing, but while meat consumption has come under the spotlight, the number of shoppers buying meat annually is not declining to the level some might expect.


“One of the changes we have seen is consumers adopting a flexitarian approach, eating a mix of vegetables, fish and meat.”

Supply chain fairness

The plan to move away from direct support will make the need to tackle supply chain issues even more urgent over the next decade.


The new Agriculture Bill presented to Parliament does contain some measures to deal with these issues, such as allowing the Government to regulate contracts between farmers and first purchasers like processors and abattoirs.


Conservative Ministers have, however, so far refused to listen to industry calls for the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s (GCA) remit to be extended.


Tenant Farmers’ Association chief executive George Dunn said: “Retail and food service supply chains need strong regulation to ensure fair treatment of primary producers.


“Indications from the outgoing GCA that her role could continue on a part-time basis because of the successes she has achieved are at best premature and at worst naive.


“By including supply chain measures in the previous Agriculture Bill, the Government has recognised the need for a widening and deepening of the regulatory framework.


“We need a full-time adjudicator doing a full-time job across the whole of the retail and food service supply chains from farm to fork.”

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