Government outlines post-Brexit farming policies for England

Plans to deliver a new farming system in England have been set out by government. They will transform the way the Government supports farmers, in the most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years.

Egg and poultrymeat producers do not receive subsidies through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), however, those that also manage land, are paid for doing so currently. The roadmap outlines changes that will come into force over a period of seven years to help farmers adapt and plan for the future.

Outside the EU and and the CAP, the plans set out how government plans to introduce a new system that is  centred on support that rewards farmers and land managers for sustainable farming practices.

The changes will be designed to ensure that by 2028 there will be no subsidies based on land farmed, but instead farmers in England will be paid to improve the environment, improve animal health and welfare and reduce carbon emissions.

Next year marks the start of the transition where England will begin to move away from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) towards new policies that will be co-designed and tested together with farmers, land managers and experts, to ensure that the new systems work for them.

The ‘Path to Sustainable Farming’ document, published on 30 November, sets out more detail on the changes Government is going to make.

The key changes include:

  • Introducing the Environmental Land Management scheme to incentivise sustainable farming practices, create habitats for nature recovery and establish new woodland to help tackle climate change.
  • Investing in improving animal health and welfare.
  • Direct Payments will be reduced, starting from the 2021 Basic Payment Scheme year, with the money released being used to fund new grants and schemes to boost farmers’ productivity and reward environmental improvements.
  • Launching a Farming Investment Fund, which will support innovation and productivity. This will open for applications next year and will be used to offer grants for equipment, technology and infrastructure for the future.
  • Simplifying and improving existing schemes and their application processes further from January 2021 to reduce the burden on farmers.

In a speech to farmers and environmental groups at an Oxford Farming Conference OFCBitesize event, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We want farmers to access public money to help their businesses become more productive and sustainable, whilst taking steps to improve the environment and animal welfare, and deliver climate change outcomes on the land they manage.

“Rather than the prescriptive, top down rules of the EU era, we want to support the choices that farmers and land managers take. If we work together to get this right, then a decade from now the rest of the world will want to follow our lead.”

The new roadmap comes a few weeks after the government’s landmark Agriculture Bill passed into law.

Further detail on the National Pilot for Environmental Land Management and the government response to the national conversation around the new scheme that took place earlier this year are due to be published early next year.

These measures apply to England only. Each UK administration has the flexibility to develop agricultural policy suited to their own circumstances.

In order to ensure that farmers are adequately supported, farming resilience programme will be made available throughout the first three years of the agricultural transition period to help those most affected by the phasing out of Direct Payments. This will help farmers plan and manage their businesses through the transition to the new system.

The document also sets out the various steps that have been taken to simplify the Basic Payment Scheme for next year, in order to reduce the burden on farmers as they focus on transitioning to the new system. This includes important changes to cross-compliance, such as an increased use of warning letters and offers of advice over farmers receiving a penalty as the default response to a breach of the rules. The new Environmental Land Management scheme, expected to be rolled out in late 2024, will introduce new ways of working together with farmers to deliver better environmental outcomes.

A statutory instrument (SI) is expected to be laid in Parliament this week to implement these simplifications ready for next year’s scheme. This SI will also allow for improvements to cross compliance, such as the greater use of warning letters instead of default financial penalties and better inspection targeting.

Defra will consult formally on a proposal to offer lump sum exit payments to farmers who may wish to leave the sector and plans to delink Direct Payments from land for all farmers later in the agricultural transition.

Environmental Land Management will consist of three components:

  • the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will support approaches to farm husbandry that deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management,
  • Local Nature Recovery, which will pay for actions such as creating, managing or restoring habitats, natural flood management and species management,
  • Landscape Recovery, which will focus on landscape and ecosystem recovery through projects looking to achieve large-scale forest and woodland creation, peatland restoration, or the creation and restoration of coastal habitats, such as wetlands and salt marsh. Farmers and land managers will be able to assess which component is best-suited to their land.

At the same time, the funding gained from phasing out Direct Payments will be used to introduce new schemes to help farmers become more productive and meet the growing demand for their produce all around the world.

The new Farming Investment Fund will open for applications next year. The fund will provide targeted support to businesses so that they can invest in equipment, technology, and infrastructure that will improve their productivity and deliver environmental and other public benefits.

The two levels for this fund will be the Farming Equipment Technology Fund, which will offer small grants to contribute towards the purchase of a list of specified items and the Farming Transformation Fund, which will provide larger grants towards the cost of more substantial investments in equipment, technology or infrastructure, with the potential to transform business performance.

Eligible investments under these funds may include on-farm water storage infrastructure, robotic or automated technology, items to improve animal health and welfare and equipment for processing agricultural products, which may help farmers to streamline or diversify their businesses.

 

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