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Agriculture Bill set to switch focus to environmental benefit and ‘public goods’

20/01/2020

Sarah Richardson, agriculture solicitor at Lodders explains the key measures in the new Agriculture Bill and considers their implications for farmers and farming businesses.

Following its announcement in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, the government has published the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 (“the Bill”), which was introduced to parliament on 16 January 2020.

In what has been called “one of the most important environmental reforms for many years”, the Bill aims to redress the balance between food production and the environment, helping farmers and land managers boost their productivity by farming more innovatively and caring for the environment.

Alongside several new measures, at the heart of the Bill is a move from direct payments, which are currently based on the amount of land farmed, to rewarding farmers and land managers with public money for delivering “public goods” such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside, and measures to reduce flooding.

Transition period

There is expected to be a transition period of 7 years phasing out direct payments under the current EU Common Agricultural Policy, starting from 2021.  The Bill sets out the framework for a new funding system of Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) whereby farmers and land managers will enter into agreements as to how they will use their land in order to deliver the “public goods”.

It is expected that down the line in the transition period the government will “delink” the direct payments from the requirement to farm land, with the hope of giving farmers greater flexibility to plan for their futures by investing in their businesses, diversifying, and encouraging succession by the younger generation.

New measures

New measures introduced by the Bill include food security reporting obligations; monitoring and researching soil quality; improved data collection relating to identification, movements and animal health; amongst other things, with provisions also having been made for alterations to existing agricultural tenancy legislation.

Despite the Bill having been largely well received, there are concerns about the lack of commitment to control imports from countries with less stringent food production standards, as new trade deals are negotiated and more detail is needed on the logistics of removing the direct payments during the transition period.

It is expected that the Bill will be passed in the Spring, although the date for the second reading in parliament has not yet been announced.  The sooner the better for farmers and land managers, who need as much time as possible to plan how the system will affect them and their businesses.

Find out more

For more information or advice on how the Agriculture Bill may affect your farming enterprise, please do get in touch.

We are also running our annual Rural Conference on 27 February 2020, where the Agriculture Bill will be one of several topics under discussion. To find out more about the Rural Conference and book your place, please click here.

To read the Agriculture Bill 2019 – 2020 in full, please click here.

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For more information on our agricultural law offering, please contact James Spreckley on 01789 206166, or via email.