Focus on farming as a 'public good' as new Agriculture Bill introduced in Parliament

The introduction of new laws for agriculture have been heralded as a “big step forward” as farmers will be paid for “public goods” such as protecting water and air quality and tackling climate change.

The Government introduced its Agriculture Bill yesterday, which will govern farming in England after Brexit, with a shift away from the current EU subsidy system of paying farmers mostly for the amount of land they farm.

Instead, payments will reward farmers for measures to protect land, water and air, support thriving plants and wildlife, tackle climate change, maintain beautiful landscapes, improve public access and boost animal health and welfare.

James Swyer, from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “Today’s announcement should mark the end of a long campaign for farmers to be supported in protecting this precious national resource.

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    Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers. Photo: PA

    “In recent years we have argued the case for a commitment to soil health in the halls of Westminster, on the stage of farming conferences and throughout the farming press, so this is a substantial step forward.”

    While National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters welcomed the Bill’s recognition that farmers have a vital role as food producers.

    She said it was vital British farming continued to contribute a significant proportion of the UK’s food needs and also crucial the new policy recognised and rewarded the environmental benefits farmers deliver now and in the future.

    But she said: “Farmers across the country will still want to see legislation underpinning the Government’s assurances that they will not allow the imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal here through future trade deals.”

    The Bill, which fell before becoming law when the General Election was called, now includes more focus on food production, provides for payments to protect soils, and will require the Government to regularly report on food security.

    The Government has pledged to maintain current UK levels of funding, around £3.4bn, for agriculture, currently administered via the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, for the length of this Parliament.

    Environmental groups have welcomed the proposed legislation to support farmers and tackle the nature and climate crises.

    But there were warnings that sufficient funding was needed in the long-term to help nature and that British farmers and environmental standards must not be undermined in future trade deals with countries such as the US.

    Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said the Bill would transform British farming and enable a balance between food production and the environment to safeguard the countryside and farming communities.

    Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said the new laws would break the country free from the EU’s “bureaucratic” rules.

    She said: “We will move away from the EU’s bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy and towards a fairer system which rewards our hard-working farmers for delivering public goods, celebrating their world-leading environmental work and innovative, modern approach to food production.”

    The changes set out in the Bill will be brought in over seven years, from 2021 to the end of 2027 to help farmers adjust.

    Direct payments for the amount of land farmed will be phased out with the largest reductions starting for those who are paid the most.