Publication of Agricultural Bill

The Government’s Agricultural Bill was published on 12th September and sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for ‘public goods’, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments which pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year. The government intention is to work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach.

The Bill will also be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in (R&D). For example, there will be funding available for farmers to come together to develop and get the research projects that they want and need, whether that be on soil health or sustainable livestock farming . The government will also be able to make payments during the seven year transition period for famers to invest in new technologies and methods that boost productivity.

For 2019, Direct Payments will be made on the same basis as now, subject to simplifications where possible. Direct Payments for 2020 will also be made in much the same way as now. Simplifications will be made as soon as possible, subject to the terms of the overall Brexit implementation period. There will then be an agricultural transition period in England between 2021 and 2027 as payments are gradually phased out. To help new entrants get into the sector and give farmers flexibility to plan for the future, Direct Payments during the agricultural transition period up until 2027 will be ‘delinked’ from the requirement to farm the land. These payments, which may be calculated according to money received in previous years, can be used by farmers to invest in their business, diversify their activities or else retire from farming and give way for new people to enter. The Government will continue to run rural development (Pillar 2) legacy schemes. The government will continue to make payments and honour those agreements farmers have entered into under Pillar 2, which will run past EU Exit day.

The Bill also sets out how the government will strengthen transparency in the supply chain to help farmers get a better deal in the marketplace by collecting data from across the supply chain.

  • There has been a general welcome of the confirmation that public money will be aimed at providing public goods, and the focus on soils, water and air quality that this entails, but no mention of the links between farming, food and public health, despite calls for this to be a top priority from a broad coalition of food, farming and public health experts
  • Stress that there is no mention of support within the Bill for wildlife and climate-friendly farming systems such as organic and agroforestry within the plan. And yet Improving air and water quality, providing habitats for wildlife, reducing flood risks and improving animal welfare, are already key criteria for organic producers which puts them in good stead moving forward.
  • While the proposed increased investment in research and development alongside stronger emphasis on farmer led research and innovation is welcome news, this must include further development in ecological farming approaches – not mentioned in the Bill.
  • General concern across the sector that there’s no indication of the level of long-term funding past 2022 which is needed to run a successful farming business with long term planning and investment
  • Impact of Hard / No Deal Bexit on trade arrangement and food standards
  • Detail still to be developed, tested, and turned into policy. The ORC along with the English Organic Forum and others in the organic sector will continue to work hard to develop proposals and offer our experience and expertise to Defra. Next steps will be the 2nd Reading of the Agricultural Bill in mid-October.

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