The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. The new bill will look to correct how current payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. Currently the top 10% of recipients receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%.
In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year. The government will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards, laying the foundations for a Green Brexit.
The Bill will also be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in (R&D).There will be funding available for farmers to come together to develop and get the research projects that they want and need, whether that be on soil health or sustainable livestock farming .
This will lead to practical gains for farmers that help them become more profitable and reduce their environmental footprint. The government will also be able to make payments during the seven year transition period for farmers to invest in new technologies and methods that boost productivity.
Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “The introduction of the Agriculture Bill is an historic moment as we leave the EU and move towards a brighter future for farming. After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit.
“This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations. Critically, we will also provide the smooth and gradual transition that farmers and land managers need to plan ahead.”
For 2019, Direct Payments will be made on the same basis as now, subject to simplifications where possible. Direct Payments for 2020 will also be made in much the same way as now. There will then be an agricultural transition period in England between 2021 and 2027 as payments are gradually phased out.