Big changes to farm support have been given the go-ahead after legislation that the government says will “unleash the potential of agriculture” passed into UK law.
Direct payments to farmers will be phased out over seven years and replaced with a new system of “public money for public goods” which will reward farmers who undertake additional environmental measures on their land.
The government’s Agriculture Act became law on 11 November. It paves the way for the abolition of the Basic Payment Scheme and the introduction of the Environmental Land Management Scheme.
The Act also includes measures designed to support farmers and land managers to boost their productivity, and ultimately maximise the potential of their land to produce high quality food in a more sustainable way.
Defra secretary George Eustice said: “Our landmark Agriculture Act will transform the way we support farmers.”
Funds released from phasing out basic payments would be re-invested into a new policy centred around incentivising sustainable farming practices, supporting nature recovery and ecosystem services to help tackle challenges like climate change.
“We will support farmers in reducing their costs and improving their profitability, to help those who want to retire or leave the industry to do so with dignity, and to create new opportunities and support for new entrants coming in to the industry.”
NFU president Minette Batters described the legislation as a landmark moment for UK food and farming. She added: “Simply put, the Agriculture Act will set how we farm in this country for generations to come.”
As well as environmental payments, the Act gives the government powers to grant financial assistance to support the selling, marketing, packaging or processing of products derived from an agricultural or horticultural activity.
Getting to this point had not been easy, said Ms Batters. The NFU had made the case that the legislation needed to recognise the role of farmers as food producers and the government had finally agreed that it should do so.
NFU lobbying meant there was a greater focus on food production than there otherwise would – and funding for existing producer organisations activities would continue beyond 2020 and ahead of the new environmental scheme.
Country Land and Business Association president Mark Bridgeman said it was vital for the government to work with farmers and help it support rural communities through job creation and economic development.
“This is only the beginning, not the end of the process for the farming industry,” said Mr Bridgeman. The Agriculture Act was a reminder of the profound responsibilities growers and livestock producers had to feed the nation.
Mr Bridgeman said the government must commit itself to working hand in glove with the industry to ensure future policies actually work effectively on the ground, while recognising the potential of the rural economy to help combat climate change.”