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Have your say on the future of UK Agriculture!

14th Mar 2018

Defra have launched a consultation to find out farmer's thoughts on the future policy opportunities for agriculture in England. The consultation which opened on the 27th February is open until the 8th May and is a great opportunity for everyone to have their say on what is important for the future of agriculture. 

You can read the full consultation paper here and access the relevant webpage here

The executive summary of the consultation is below.

1. Farmers and land managers grow our food and shape our natural environment. They protect the beauty of our countryside, the majesty of our forests and the richness of our wildlife. Agriculture employs nearly 500,000 people and is a key part of the food and drink industry, which contributes £112 billion to the economy. Agriculture accounts for over 70% of land use in the UK, and has a major influence on our environment.

2. This paper consults on a new, post-CAP domestic settlement for agriculture designed for our own circumstances, with greater freedom for all parts of the United Kingdom. Farming and the countryside affects us all in our daily lives, and we welcome the views of all readers on the policy ideas set out in this paper. This consultation marks the first step on the road to a new agricultural policy outside of the EU so that together, we make the right decisions to secure a bright future for farming and the environment. 

Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy

3.  Approaches to farming have been shaped by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP introduced some of the world’s first agri-environment schemes, making progress towards improving our environment. Significant reforms have helped to shift the CAP away from the ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’ of the 1980s. Decoupling Direct Payments from production has reduced some of the incentives to produce in an environmentally-harmful way.

4.  Despite this, the CAP remains flawed. Even though we have some of the most innovative farmers in the world, land-based subsidies can undermine incentives for widespread productivity improvement and are bad value for taxpayers. Efforts to enhance our environment have also been limited by the bureaucratic structure of the CAP. It has imposed unnecessary regulatory burdens and failed to reward some public goods adequately, such as measures to improve water quality and soil health. 

Our ambition for farming and the environment

5  Leaving the European Union and the CAP will give us the opportunity for fundamental reform. We want a more dynamic, more self-reliant agriculture industry as we continue to compete internationally, supplying products of the highest standards to the domestic market and increasing exports. But, alongside this, we want a reformed agricultural and land management policy to deliver a better and richer environment in England.

6. We will incentivise methods of farming that create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions. We will achieve this by ensuring that public money is spent on public goods, such as restoring peat bog and measures which sequester carbon from the atmosphere; protecting dry stone walls and other iconic aspects of our heritage; and reducing disease through new initiatives that better monitor animal health and welfare. 

7. We believe this is a vision that could work for the whole of the UK but we recognise that devolution provides each administration with the powers to decide its own priorities. In line with the principles underpinning the creation of common frameworks agreed by the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), frameworks will be established where they are necessary in order to enable a well-functioning internal market across the United Kingdom, compliance with international obligations and protection of our common resources. Together, we are confident that we can determine frameworks with the right mix of commonality and flexibility. It is the government’s expectation that the process will lead to an increase in decision-making powers for each of the devolved administrations. 

An 'agricultural transition'

8. We will maintain the same cash total funding for the sector until the end of this parliament: this includes all EU and Exchequer funding provided for farm support under both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the current CAP. This commitment applies to each part of the UK.

9. We will formally leave the European Union in March 2019. The government anticipates that we will agree an implementation period for the whole country with the EU lasting for around another two years. Once we have the freedom to move away from the CAP, there will be an ‘agricultural transition’ period in England. This will give farmers time to prepare for new trading relationships and an environmental land management system.

Our proposals for England

10. In England, Direct Payments will continue during the ‘agricultural transition’. So that we can support farmers to prepare for change, we will need to free up funds. To do this, we propose to apply reductions to Direct Payments, starting with those receiving the highest payments, to fund pilots of environmental land management schemes and to help farmers unlock their full potential for sustainable production. The devolved administrations will have the same flexibility to target support in a way that best suits their circumstances.

11. There is a huge opportunity for UK agriculture to improve its competitiveness – developing the next generation of food and farming technology, adopting the latest agronomic techniques, reducing the impact of pests and diseases, investing in skills and equipment and collaborating with other farmers and processors. We want our future policy to provide an enabling environment for farmers to improve their productivity and add value to their products, so they can become more profitable and competitive. We therefore propose to further reduce and phase out Direct Payments in England completely by the end of the ‘agricultural transition’ period, which will last a number of years beyond the implementation period. 

12. We recognise that some sectors may find it more difficult than others to adapt – for example, those located in the most remote, wild and beautiful parts of England. We recognise the environmental and cultural value of our rural landscapes and traditional 8 ways of life, including areas such as the uplands. The uplands have the potential to benefit from new environmental land management schemes, given the nature of their landscapes and the many public goods that they deliver, such as biodiversity, flood risk mitigation and carbon sequestration. We will explore possible options on how we can best support such areas.

13. We will also look to simplify existing schemes during the ‘agricultural transition’ period. We will seek to simplify Countryside Stewardship schemes, cross compliance and remove or reduce current ineffective greening requirements, before we move to a new regulatory regime.

A new Environmental Land management system

14. We propose for our new agricultural policy to be underpinned by payment of public money for the provision of public goods. While environmental enhancement and protection are of key importance, better animal and plant health, animal welfare, improved public access, rural resilience and productivity are also areas where government could play a role in supporting farmers and land managers in the future.

15. From the end of the ‘agricultural transition’, a new environmental land management system will be the cornerstone of our agricultural policy in England. The system will help us to deliver our manifesto commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. Farming is crucial to achieving the goals set out in our recently published 25 Year Environment Plan. A new environmental land management system will help us to preserve the investment in our countryside that has already been made and delivered by farmers. It will consist of a new scheme that pays providers for delivering environmentally beneficial outcomes; and will provide support for farmers and land managers as we move towards a more effective application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

16.  Our new environmental land management system will be underpinned by natural capital principles, so that the benefits the natural environment provides for people and wildlife are properly valued and used to inform decisions on future land management. The new system aims to deliver benefits such as improved air, water and soil quality; increased biodiversity; climate change mitigation and adaptation; and cultural benefits that improve our mental and physical well-being, while protecting our historic environment.

17. We will learn from the implementation of past schemes, consult with stakeholders on the design of new and ambitious schemes and pilot them in preparation for the introduction of the system.

High Animal Welfare

18. The public has an expectation of high animal welfare standards and consumers want to know what they are buying. We want to safeguard the welfare of our livestock, building on our existing reputation for world leading standards. Rather than significantly raising 9 the UK legislative baseline, we could pilot schemes that offer targeted payments to farmers who deliver higher welfare outcomes in sectors where animal welfare largely remains at the legislative minimum.

Excellent plant and animal health standards

19. Productive and resilient forestry, horticulture and agriculture industries depend on good tree, plant and animal health. Preventing and tackling pests and disease in trees, plants and animals also has wider benefits for productivity, the environment, tackling climate change and public health. In line with our commitment in the 25 Year Environment Plan, we want to see a substantial reduction in endemic disease. 

Smarter regulation and enforcement

20. Our high environmental and animal health and welfare standards are underpinned by robust domestic legislation. Parts of the current enforcement system impose disproportionate penalties or provide insufficient scope for farmers to remedy underperformance. We would want to design a new, fairer enforcement system whilst maintaining a robust approach that delivers value for money for taxpayers. Further to this, Dame Glenys Stacey will be conducting a thorough and comprehensive review of the inspections regime, seeing how inspections can be removed, reduced or improved to lessen the burden on farmers while maintaining and enhancing our animal, environmental and plant health standards.

21. During the ‘agricultural transition’ period, we want to seize the opportunity that leaving the EU offers to change the regulatory culture and provide a more integrated, appropriate and targeted enforcement system. With greater regulatory simplification at its heart, our new system will achieve environmental, animal health and welfare objectives and support farmers to uphold standards.

22. As well as maintaining high standards through appropriate regulation, we also propose to support industry initiatives to improve animal and plant health, including through better information-sharing. We will also consider funding innovative approaches to improving farm animal welfare.

Managing risk and volatility

23. Farmers are exposed to year-on-year price volatility and other risks, which can negatively affect planning and investment for the future. Farm businesses can already manage their risks through diversification of income, financial planning and the use of tax smoothing. The best way of improving resilience in the farming sector is to support increases in farm productivity, promote better animal and plant health, and make sure farmers have access to the tools they need to effectively manage their risk. We are consulting on the barriers to wider development of insurance, futures contracts and other risk management tools, and how government can encourage their adoption. We are also considering how to improve the government response to major crises.

Helping rural communities prosper

24. Agriculture exists within broader rural communities and economies. We recognise that businesses in rural areas (including farms) face particular challenges, which include reduced physical and digital connectivity; and we will be working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on improving rural broadband and 4G. Those who live and work in the countryside should have the same opportunities as those in urban areas. We will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, as part of delivering the government’s Industrial Strategy, to support rural businesses. International trade

25. Accessing new markets can allow our farmers to export more British produce and increase their profits, as well as to spread risk. While competition helps to drive down prices, consumers also benefit from increased choice. We know that consumers buy certain products for a range of reasons which also include provenance and sustainability. Building on the GREAT Britain campaign, we want to help develop a British brand that can help inform those choices. The government is fully committed to maintaining high standards of consumer, worker and environmental protection in trade agreements. We will adopt a trade approach which promotes industry innovation and lower prices for consumers. But we also need to adopt a trade approach that allows sufficient time for the industry to prepare.  

A skilled workforce

26 .Making sure that our agriculture, horticulture, forestry and food supply chain industries have access to sufficient and suitably-skilled labour is essential to industry growth and competitiveness. We will take the opportunity to stimulate a forward-thinking agricultural industry that invests in the future through innovative practice and automation. We want to help attract more of our graduates and domestic workforce into this vibrant industry. A new statutory framework

27. The farming industry needs a new statutory framework to allow us to deliver many of the reforms set out in this paper. We will introduce an Agriculture Bill that breaks from the CAP, providing us with the ability to set out a domestic policy that will stand the test of time.

Your views

28. We should all have an interest in the landscape around us: it must sustain us now and be held in trust for future generations. We welcome all views on our policy proposals. By working together we can maintain a safe, high-quality supply of food, produced in a way that enhances the environment and our precious countryside. 

There are also two annexes, 

Annex A sets out some of the early suggestions that have emerged from discussions and invite views from all with an interest in the countryside and the environment.

Annex B lists some types of land management practices currently within Countryside Stewardship that have delivered multiple objectives and looks at whether some of these options could be included in a future environmental land management system.

How to respond

You can respond online through this link, email [email protected] or write to:

Agriculture Consultation Team, 1b Future Farming Directorate, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR