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The long-awaited Agriculture Bill: A sneak preview of what it contains

The Agriculture Bill is due to be published today. Abi Kay gives a sneak preview of what it contains.


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The long-awaited Agriculture Bill: A sneak preview of what it contains

Defra Secretary Michael Gove has set out his vision for post-Brexit farming in the long-awaited Agriculture Bill, which will be presented to parliament today for its first reading.

 

Here is a summary of what you can expect to see when the Bill is published.


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Simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy

 

Direct payments will continue to be made for the 2019 scheme year on the same basis as now, but from 2020, simplifications to applications and administration will be made.

 

Simplifications to Countryside Stewardship are also expected from 2019 and the Government is ‘considering’ extending Higher Level Scheme agreements – a key ask from farming groups.

 

Cuts to direct payments

 

The Bill sets out how direct payments will be cut over a seven-year ‘agricultural transition’, beginning in 2021 and ending in 2027 – unless a future Government chooses to extend it.

 

Much like taxes, direct payments will be split into four ‘bands’, with different reductions applied to each band (see table below).

 

Direct payment band Reduction percentage
Up to £30,000 5 per cent
£30,000 - £50,000 10 per cent
£50,000 - £150,000 20 per cent
£150,000 or more 25 per cent

 

For claims worth £40,000, a 5 per cent reduction would be applied to the first £30,000 and a ten per cent reduction would be applied to the next £10,000.

 

The percentage reductions will be increased during the transition, but at the moment, no further detail about these heavier cuts is available.

‘Golden parachute’ payments worth thousands

 

In one of the more eye-catching sections of the Bill, English farmers will be offered the chance to take several years’ worth of farm payments in a lump sum - even if they are no longer working the land.

 

Under the proposals, farmers will be able to bundle together a number of the farm payments they are due during the ‘agricultural transition’, potentially giving them a payout worth thousands.

 

Alternatively, they could choose to take such ‘delinked’ payments over the course of several years.

 

Ministers have suggested this golden parachute will allow farmers who want to retire but lack the money to do so to leave the land, opening up opportunities for new entrants.

 

The cash could also be used for on-farm investment or diversification activities.

 

It is not clear how, if at all, the Government would prevent recipients from spending the money on leisure or luxury items.

 

Devolved nations

 

While there are components of the Bill which have a UK-wide element, the UK Government expects the devolved administrations to introduce their own legislation setting out post-Brexit farming policy.

 

One UK-wide section of the Bill which deals with how World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules will be followed has been contentious, with the Welsh Government saying keeping these powers at Westminster would have a ‘significant effect’ on devolved competence.

 

Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said she wanted a ‘better process’ to be introduced for managing this issue.

 

Wales will, however, receive a raft of new powers in the Bill at the request of Ms Griffiths.

 

They include:

  • Financial powers for future schemes
  • Collection and sharing of data
  • Powers to intervene in exceptional market conditions
  • Setting of marketing standards
  • Modification of retained EU law relating to the financing, management and monitoring of payments to farmers including the CAP Basic Payment Scheme.

Civil servants in Northern Ireland have also asked for a schedule to be included which will allow them to rollover existing schemes in the absence of a functioning Government at Stormont.

 

Scotland will introduce its own legislation in due course.

 

New Environmental Land Management Scheme

 

The Government plans to introduce a new scheme from next year which will pay farmers for providing public goods such as soil health, air quality, water quality, biodiversity, improving public access to the countryside and carbon reduction.

 

Farmers wanting to take part will enter into multi-annual contracts, though agreements which last for a shorter period of time will be available to tenants.

 

The contracts will be based on land management plans developed by farmers, who can apply to join the scheme at any time.

 

All elements of the scheme will be tested, trialled and piloted before being rolled out nationally.

 

Valuing public goods

 

Public goods will be valued according to natural capital principles, with the Natural Capital Committee currently exploring how much the provision of each public good is worth.

 

This work will inform decisions about how much farmers can expect to receive.

 

Some public goods will be more highly valued than others, and the payments farmers can apply for will vary depending upon the topography and landscape in the area they farm.

 

The Government denies this will lead to a postcode lottery where some farmers are left unable to access adequate funds, insisting all interested farmers should be able to put together some kind of environmental package.

 

Productivity measures

 

The Bill will be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in research and development.

 

Funding will be available for farmers to come together to develop and get research projects they need to make them more profitable or reduce their environmental footprint.

 

The Government also plans to make payments during the ‘agricultural transition’ for famers to invest in new technologies and methods which boost productivity.

 

Supply chain measures

 

The Bill is understood to contain a section on Producer Organisations, which the Government hopes will help strengthen farmers’ position in the supply chain, but an extension of the Groceries Code Adjudicator remit – another key ask for farming groups – is not thought to be included.

 

Budgets

 

There is no more detail about the size of the overall agriculture budget beyond 2022 or how devolved budgets will be calculated, but farmers can expect to see a multi-annual commitment during the ‘agricultural transition’ which should provide a little more certainty.

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