On 4 January 2018, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, gave a speech setting out plans to replace EU subsidies for farmers with a new system that would prioritise the environment.
Key points of the speech include changes in four specific areas:
- A new approach to support for agriculture, following the UK’s exit from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after Brexit.
- To develop a coherent policy on food – integrating the needs of agriculture businesses, other enterprises, consumers, public health and the environment.
- To give farmers and land managers time and the tools to adapt to the future, but also prepare properly for the changes which are coming.
- To build natural capital thinking into the approach towards all land use and management in order to develop a truly sustainable future for the countryside.
The UK will formally leave the EU in March 2019 but the government anticipates an implementation or transition period for the whole country with the EU lasting for around another two years. The government has pledged that the amount allocated to farming support will be protected throughout and beyond this period right up until the end of this Parliament in 2022. However, the amount allocated to large farming units in England is likely to be reduced.
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
Post Brexit the UK will formulate its own national agricultural and environmental policy shaped for its own interests. Mr Gove stated CAP has evolved and improved over time but is still “a fundamentally flawed design”. Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land had distorted markets, created barriers to innovative new farmers and resulted in lower productivity and little environmental benefit.
New system of environmental direction
Mr Gove announced plans for a new accessible scheme designed to enhance the natural environment. Building on previous Countryside Stewardship and Agri-environment schemes, Mr Gove proposes to “design a scheme accessible to almost any land owner or manager who wishes to enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, contributing to improved water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states”. Additional money will be made available for those who wish to collaborate to secure environmental improvements collectively at landscape scale. Mr Gove highlights that enhancing the natural environment is a vital mission for the government and leaving the EU allows a Green Brexit.
Speedier and less bureaucratic financial support for farmers
Mr Gove states the current system is far too bureaucratic, with the Rural Payments Agency taking too long to pay farmers and with Countryside Stewardship Schemes applications being too complex. New Countryside Stewardship schemes are to be simplified to the extent that any farmer can complete an application in a working day.
Support for the Countryside Stewardship agreements entered into before the UK leave the EU will continue and Mr Gove highlights that they will ensure “no one in an existing scheme is unfairly disadvantaged when we transition to new arrangements”. The 2019 BPS scheme will be paid on the same basis as is paid now.
Mr Gove admitted that farmers are inspected far too often and ineffectively because of CAP’s inflexibilities, including the present fear of disallowance. Mr Gove intends to reduce inspections by making them more genuinely risk-based and have them focus on those, limited, areas where standards are not where they should be.
Mr Gove states he wants to develop new approaches to food labelling by not just badging food properly a British, but also creating a new gold-standard metric for food and farming quality.
A Command Paper setting out the proposal will be published later this spring, which will be subject to consultation.
Defra: Farming for the next generation (5 January 2018) and Thomson Reuters: Farm spending to focus on environment after Brexit – Michael Gove (4 January 2018)