- The introduction of the new Agriculture Bill presents a post-Brexit plan for a cleaner, more environmentally-conscious Britain that focuses on providing for its farmers.
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After almost half a century under EU rule, today 12th of September, the Agriculture Bill, legislation focused on providing a cleaner environment for future Brits, has been introduced to Parliament. The Bill focuses on the important role farmers and land managers play in determining the state of Britain’s environment, and sets a up a system in which these are paid for “public goods” like improving soil, air, and water quality, bettering animal welfare standards, increasing public access to the countryside, taking measures to reduce flooding, and preventing climate change.
The new system will replace Direct Payments, which is part of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and pays farmers based on the amount of land they farm. The old system, which benefited large landowners without taking into account the general public well-being, led to unequal distribution of resources, with the top 10% of recipients receiving nearly 50% of the payments and the bottom 20% receiving only 2%.
The transition period will last seven years, during which Direct Payments will be phased out and farmers will be given opportunity to invest in new technologies and productivity-boosting methods (with help from government spending). In the following two years, Direct Payments will be made on the same basis, although they will be subject for simplifications. 2021 to 2027 will see the phasing out of payments until the year 2028 when they will be completely eradicated, replaced by the new system.
The Agriculture Bill serves as a direct response the what has been a growing demand by the public for UK-sourced foods that are safe, high-quality, affordable, and traceable. According to Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary: “After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit. This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.” The main focus at the moment, according to Gove, is to ensure the government provides the means for “the smooth and gradual transition that farmers and land managers need to plan ahead.”
According to the NFU, while the Bill sets out address the “clear market failure in the food chain” that means farmers are not compensated for the investments they make and the risks they take, there may be room for improvement. Minette Batters, President of NFU, says: “The NFU alongside, the whole food supply chain, has been absolutely clear about the essential ingredients for a progressive, profitable, and sustainable food and farming sector post Brexit. These include comprehensive measures to improve the environment and productivity and tackle volatility alongside free and frictionless trade and access to a competent and reliable workforce. The Bill, as described in the announcement falls short of our aspirations in these regards.”
One of the concerns raised by NFU and farmers across Britain is that the Bill only provides a short term commitment. Batters states that the NFU will keep a close eye on the proposals presented during the transition period. “In particular,” Batters says, “the Bill must provide Government with the powers to pause the process if it is proving unmanageable for farmers, and if our domestic food supply and food security are under threat.”
Today, NFU launched UK: A Nation United by Food, a report they intend to send to MPs all around the country as the means of beginning a conversation about the future of food in the UK. The report divides the topic into four main points: moral imperative, health and nutrition, integrity and standards, and working with nature, all vital talking points when discussing the measures that need to be taken for the UK food production world to evolve. Because of Brexit, British farmers find themselves competing on the global market, against farmers around the world “nearly all of whom are supported financially to produce food.” According to the NFU, legislation that provides the right financial and policy-based framework is what Britain needs to hone its competitive edge.
Farming is a cornerstone of the UK market, with farmlands covering 70% of the country. The British farming industry provides 3.8 million jobs, £111 billion to the country’s economy, and 61% of the nation’s food. Schemes that protect it, and its sustainability, are vital and have proven to be effective. ‘Exmoor Ambition’ is a post-Brexit plan that focuses on upland hill farming that has gained traction, and under other agri-environmental schemes in England, over 30,000 kilometres of hedgerows have been restored or planted. Since 1990, total Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have fallen 17%. According to Batters: “By starting a nationwide conversation we can work together to help plot the course for the future of food in Britain. If we do this then the benefits – economically, socially and environmentally – will be great.”
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