https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2018/09/12/2344/

Landmark Agriculture Bill and NAO report

Landmark Agriculture Bill to deliver a Green Brexit

Today we have introduced an Agriculture Bill into Parliament. This is a major post-Brexit policy that will ensure a leaner and healthier environment for future generations

This Bill will take back control for farmers after almost 50 years of EU rules, invest in the environment and help farmers to continue producing world-leading food.

At the core of this legislation is a simple principle: public money to public goods. It means farmers will be paid for their work to protect the environment and provide other public goods. It replaces the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits.

Among the public goods that will be rewarded are better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.

The Bill also has a specific clause to allow us to provide financial assistance to improve agricultural productivity, supporting farmers in food production. There are measures to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain and give farmers a transition period of seven years to adjust to the new system.

The Countryside & Land Alliance has called this Bill a “seminal moment for the future of our countryside”, ensuring that farming and food production can go hand-in-hand with a healthy environment, while the Campaign to Protect Rural England has noted the “welcome measures” to ensure our countryside is thriving and healthy in years to come.

You can see the press notice here and a selection of stakeholder reaction so far below. The full Bill and explanatory notes can also be read in full here.

CLA President Tim Breitmeyer said:

The development of a new post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our countryside.

We fully support the Government’s ambition for a future where farming and food production go hand in hand with a healthy environment.

The CLA has long promoted a contractual model for the delivery of public goods, as an alternative to direct payments, through our Land Management Contract. This should provide clear objectives and obligations for both the Government and the land manager. We are pleased the Government has recognised the full range of public benefits that farmers and land managers can deliver and that they will be rewarded for work such as reducing flood risk, enhancing soil health and air quality and improving access to the countryside.

The Government has provided some certainty on transition. This is crucial for businesses to enable them to start planning for the future. Seven years should be sufficient for this.

Initial proposals to cap payments for larger farm businesses would have had a catastrophic effect. Proposals to reduce payments in manageable increments, spread across the farming industry, will enable businesses to avoid the risk of rapid change with no time to prepare. The Government must now ensure that further cuts align with the introduction of the new environmental land management contracts to avoid any cliff edges for farm businesses.

Recognition that the Government will bring forward support for investments such as new technologies and collaboration to boost productivity is welcome but further details are now required on how this will be made available.

We are pleased the Government has recognised the need for a UK-wide framework for post-Brexit agricultural and environmental policy and that Westminster and the Welsh Government are committed.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

We support the Agriculture Bill’s intention to change how taxpayers’ money will be spent towards environmental ‘public goods’.

Spending on these is vital if we are to restore uplands to hold water and prevent flooding in towns, create new wildflower meadows for pollinators and improve the fortunes of farmland wildlife like barn owls and brown hares. However, we need an ambitious Bill to arrest decades of wildlife decline and allow natural ecosystems to recover.

NFU President Minette Batters said:

It is vital that in the future British farmers can continue to meet the food needs of a growing population. A future agricultural policy that ignores food production will be damaging for farmers and the public alike. The public demand and deserve safe, high-quality, traceable affordable food, whatever their income. And moreover they want British farms to supply that food.

Farmers across the UK will be very concerned that the Bill provides only a short term commitment to improve their competitiveness; we cannot future-proof farming businesses based on the ‘time-limited’ initiatives outlined in this announcement.

Along with other farmers I will also be looking to the Bill to set out means to address the clear market failure in food chain that means farmers are not rewarded fairly for the risk and investment they make . British farmers will need to compete with farmers all over the world, nearly all of whom are supported financially to produce food. If British farmers are to underpin the nation’s food security, then they will need the right financial and policy framework to do so in a competitive and volatile global marketplace.

We will look closely at the Government’s proposals for a seven year transition period, during which direct payments will be phased-out, to ensure we’re satisfied that this will be sufficient. In particular, 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.

We are entering an historic period for farming with legislation setting the path for the next generation of farmers and the countryside. With critical decisions still to be taken in the months and years ahead it would be foolhardy for the Government to embark on such a path without knowing trading environment in which it will be set. A free and frictionless trade deal with our biggest trading partner, the EU, is absolutely critical to the farming industry.

Graeme Willis, senior rural policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England said:

There are welcome measures in this new agriculture bill. Paying famers for protecting and enhancing our landscapes, soils and countryside is a step in the right direction to restore our environment, produce food more sustainably, and ensure our countryside is thriving and healthy in years to come.

Farmers are the custodians of our landscapes and, for too long, public money has been used to simply reward land ownership rather than enhancement of our fragile environment. It is great to see government support a shift towards rewarding farmers for environmental stewardship.

However, without detail on the amount of future investment in sustainable farming, it remains to be seen whether there will be sufficient money to support a diverse farming sector and fund the restoration of a healthy countryside and landscapes. Commitments to support new entrants are welcome, but there must also be measures to reverse the decline in smaller farms.

NAO report on Defra's progress in implementing EU exit

The NAO has published a report today on Defra’s progress in implementing EU exit.

Defra is one of the most affected Government Departments by EU exit.  It is responsible for 55 of the 319 EU related work streams across Government covering chemical and agri-food industries, agriculture, fisheries and the environment.

As the report also recognises, we have already secured HM Treasury approval for £320 million spending in 2018-19, started to build new IT systems and developed new services to replace those currently provided by the EU.

Since the report was written, we have continued to reprioritise our resources, expanded our workforce and made further progress on our extensive programme of work focused on preparing for a range of Brexit scenarios.

The Sun reported that a shortage of vets could result in food being delayed at the border after Brexit.

Since the NAO conducted its audit before the summer, we have stepped up our no deal planning and made substantial progress. We have been working with the industry to ensure the necessary numbers of vets are in place by March 2019. As a result we do not expect the availability of vets to impact on food exports.

The Independent reported that plans to increase patrols of English fishing waters were unlikely to be ready by March 2019.

However, we have already submitted a business case for marine control and enforcement to HMT for financial approval, meaning we can be confident we will have sufficient control and enforcement in place by March 2019.

A Defra spokesperson said:

We thank the NAO for this report, and the NAO’s encouraging words that ‘Defra has already achieved a great deal in its preparations’ for leaving the EU.

As the report also recognises, we have already secured HM Treasury approval for £320 million spending in 2018-19, started to build new IT systems and developed new services to replace those currently provided by the EU.

Since the report was written, we have continued to reprioritise our resources, expanded our workforce and made further progress on our extensive programme of work focused on preparing for a range of Brexit scenarios.

Our work will mean that environmental, welfare, and biosecurity standards will continue to be met in a way that supports trade and the smooth flow of goods.