The 16th January saw the much-anticipated, amended Agriculture Bill introduced into Parliament. The bill is expected to have a relatively swift passage through parliament and has already been described as ‘One of the most significant pieces of legislation for Farmers in England for over 70 years.’ Whilst a relatively easy passage is expected, we do anticipate some changes will be made following the debating process within parliament.
The bill sets out the framework for UK agriculture post Brexit and as expected, remains focused around the removal of direct payments and the replacement with ‘Public Money for Public Good.’ Public goods are outlined within the bill and are essentially aimed at Environmental Improvement & Protection, Animal Welfare and Soil Protection.
Future public funding is expected to be delivered through the Governments flagship Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), early pilot schemes are already underway with the aim of launching the scheme properly in 2024. The bill, together with recent government announcements has also confirmed that Countryside Stewardship Schemes (CSS) will continue to be available and most likely continue to be available for the first few years of the transition period. DEFRA have gone further and announced that ‘No one in a CSS agreement will be unfairly disadvantaged when we transition to the new arrangements under ELM.’
The removal of the Basic Payment Scheme (direct payments) will be undertaken during a transition period of 7years. It’s widely anticipated that this will start in 2021 with payments gradually being reduced annually until they cease in 2028. As within the initial agricultural bill, the largest claimers will see the biggest reduction initially, with smaller claimers having a smaller reduction to payments.
In addition to ELMS, the bill also enables government to help farmers invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure. This will most likely be available to; Improve productivity, manage the environment sustainably and provide other public goods. There are other additions to the bill including:
- Food Security – DEFRA must report every 5 years on the food security
- Multi-annual budget – the government must produce a multi annual budget. Initially this must be for 7years, there-after it can be ‘no shorter than 5years’
- Soil Quality – Financial assistance can be providing due to the specific inclusion of soil quality in the bill
- Animal Traceability – Improvement of collection/management of data relating to Identification, movement and health
- Organics – Regulations tailored so the UK can trade produce globally
Following industry consensus, schedule 3 of the bill is directly related to Agricultural Tenancy reforms, there are a few proposed changes including:
- Tenants may lodge objections should a landlord refuse the tenant access to any government grant or support scheme.
- The succession criteria for a 1986 Agricultural Holdings Act tenancy is to be amended so that:
o The retirement age of 65 is removed
o Commercial unit test is removed
o And, the suitability test amended so that the tenant must principally prove ability to farm commercially, profitably and in an efficient and productive manner.
As for 2020 funding, it is anticipated that CSS applications for 2021 will be available from early February 2020. The government is committed to matching the funding of BPS for 2020 and whilst the bill provides the government with the ability to simplify the system, its thought that the 2020 window will be upon too quick for any substantial changes.
For more information or advice on any of the schemes available please contact our Rural Professional team on 01743 450 700 (Shrewsbury) or 01562 820 880 (Kidderminster).
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Bowmen Way Battlefield Shrewsbury Shropshire SY4 3DR
Tel: 01743 450 700 Fax: 01743 443 759