Brexit gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design an agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. For more than forty years, the EU has decided how we farm our land, the food we grow and rear, and the state of the natural environment. Now we are leaving the EU we can design a more rational and sensitive farming policy.
The Government recently published its proposals for what this should look like in a consultation paper on the forthcoming Agriculture Bill.
Our new agriculture policy should incentivise the delivery of public goods. Objectives such as sustainable land management, the creation of habitats, the planting of trees, and improved animal welfare will be rewarded with payments. This system will gradually ‘phase out’ area based ‘direct payments’ which subsidises farmers based on how much land they own. In this way public money will only be spent on delivering public good.
The policy will also help farmers become more profitable. To do this the Government will support the next generation of farmers entering the industry, help farmers invest in new equipment and technology, and encourage farmers to come together in collaboration to invest in research and development. All of these things will strengthen the position of farmers in the supply chain.
These proposals could work for the whole of the UK, though it is also important that local areas have the power to decide their own farming priorities. The Government will work closely with local authorities to ensure UK agriculture functions effectively- for farmers and consumers. This will be really important for areas like the Forest of Dean where we have great local producers of top quality food and drink.
These changes will not happen overnight. Many farmers are dependent on direct payments to balance their books, so the proposals suggest phasing them out gradually over a number of years alongside rolling out of the new, improved policy.
For the first time in half a century, we can start from first principles and try innovative, new ideas that support investment in sustainable and healthy great British food production and really deliver for farming and animal welfare.