The January blues are notorious, and with the wet weather affecting conditions for everything from drillings crops to potential outbreaks of fluke in sheep flock, it has arguably not been a great start to the year.
However, it is not all doom and gloom with the introduction of the Agricultural Bill into Parliament this week. With the intention of reforming UK agricultural policy, the Bill sets out the legal framework to support farmers and land owners as the Government prepares to transition the country away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
As previously suggested, The Basic Payment Scheme will be phased out over a 7 year transition period. It is hoped that this will allow time for farmers to adapt to the new environmental land management systems which will move the payment of subsidies away from its current emphasis on the total amount of land farmed, to a focus on things such as higher animal welfare standards, flooding protection, better air and water quality and improving access to the countryside.
In a statement released this week, Environment Secretary Theresa Villers calls the proposed new system for subsidies “public money for ‘public goods’”.
There is also reassurance that, with the introduction of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill, the application process for the 2020 Basic Payment Scheme will be the same as it was for 2019, as previously suggested by the Government as part of the transition process.
Described as one of “the most important environmental reforms for many years” by the Environment Secretary, the Bill also focuses on soil conservation and restoration.
In her statement, the Environmental Secretary also talks of the Bill moving the country “towards a fairer system which rewards hard-working farmers for delivering public goods” and to improve “transparency and fairness in the supply chain from farm to fork.”
There are concerns from some, however, that the approach taken with the Bill is too time limited and does not do enough to protect farmers to ensure their competitiveness in the market. Given the concerns around the possibility of lower food standards once the UK leaves the EU, it will be interesting to see if any laws are put forward to fulfil the Governments promises regarding this.
The second reading of the Agricultural Bill has yet to be scheduled, and it will therefore be important to watch how the Bill will be passed in its final form, and how this will shape and develop the future for British farming.
In light of the proposed changes introduced by the Bill, now is an ideal time for farmers and land owners to review all key documents, contracts and agreements to ensure everything is in order before any changes take effect.
At Hay & Kilner our specialist advisers in our Rural Team can assist will matters relating to farm businesses, from Wills, succession planning and Inheritance Tax, to boundary and contractual disputes, option agreements and sales of land. For more information please contact Alison Hall, or call 0191 232 8345.