An Early Review of DEFRA’s Future Farming and Countryside Programme

When the UK exits the European Union it will cease to partake in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regime that we are all familiar with, and instead be responsible for designing, implementing and managing its own domestic agricultural policies and schemes.

The programme for this is already underway and is entitled “The Future Farming and Countryside Programme”.

So far DEFRA has assessed the current state of agriculture in the UK and between February and May 2018 it invited the views of industry stakeholders, on its proposals for future policies. All of this has informed the programme to date, which has more recently been the subject of an early review by the National Audit Office.

The early audit is sensible in light of DEFRA’s track record for implementing and managing changes and all the more important now, as their programme represents significant change to agricultural policy, not least because current direct payments account for an average of 61% of a farms net profit and without them, it is believed 42% of farms would make a loss.

The audit is lengthy, but the key findings are as follows;

  • “The success of the Programme depends on key assumptions about take‑up and how the farming community responds to these changes. In introducing a system based on payments for environmental outcomes, DEFRA is assuming a level of take-up that has not been seen on previous environmental schemes and that the withdrawal of direct payments to farmers will be offset by productivity gains across the sector”
  • “DEFRA does not yet have a plan for how it will use the pilot (scheme) to ensure the success of the national roll-out in 2024…It does not know whether (the pilot) will provide sufficiently robust evidence across the range of farm types and locations to inform further development of the Programme”
  • “Farmers will have little time to prepare for participation in the pilot because the government has not yet made decisions about which outcomes it will pay for or how much it will pay. For decades, farmers have operated under CAP rules and regulations, and the whole farming community will have to adapt significantly as direct payments are withdrawn. They will be required to act with a potentially greater level of environmental focus than in their existing farming activity. DEFRA is not planning to set out its payment methodology until March 2020 and its payment rates until June 2020, less than a year before sign-up to the national pilot starts”.

The report concludes “Farming businesses operate on multi-year planning cycles, and so farmers have an understandable desire for predictability. The farming industry has been affected by DEFRA’s previous difficulties in introducing change successfully and the scale of the change DEFRA is now taking on is much greater”.

All in all it appears DEFRA is as un-prepared as ever, which will be of obvious concern to all industry stakeholders along with the National Audit Office, which has “serious concerns that the Programme will move too quickly and that sensible precautions, information systems and planning will not be in place and farmers will be unable to prepare in the way they need”.

Louise Preece BSc(Hons) MRICS FAAV
Contact: 01743 450700

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