Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit
In February the government published a consultation document which sets out possible options for the future of UK farming over the next generation. The NFU has also produced a more manageable 14-page summary.
The paper confirms that the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) will be paid in 2019 on the current basis but that there will be an “agricultural transition period” (without disclosing how long), during which the current scheme will be phased out. Funding will flow into new schemes to help agricultural productivity, environmental land management and animal welfare. The budget will remain at the current level until 2022 but there are no guarantees thereafter.
The paper contains very little hard detail, but perhaps we can see which way the Government is leaning, by way of the changes to agricultural subsidies, which have already been reduced or amended. This year has seen:
- Changes in the BPS rules to eliminate the use of plant protection products on fallow land, but to allow field margins to count towards satisfying the greening requirements. This option alone will probably enable many farms to satisfy their greening requirements.
- The introduction of a new simplified countryside stewardship scheme, which gives a simple menu of environmental options and no competitive point scoring to determine whether a stewardship contract will be given. Taken in conjunction with the BPS changes, this may mean that many businesses will be able to use field margins to satisfy their greening requirements, whilst redefining their previous greening areas into new stewardship schemes.
- The small farm grant scheme, which ran for one month only (to mid-March) and which offered a very simple 40% grant for strictly defined efficiency improving items of capital.
The current document is still at the consultation stage, but reading between the lines, is this what agriculture will look like, post Brexit? A comprehensive package of simple low-level environmental stewardship measures, combined with targeted grants for productivity-enhancing capital expenditure? Only time will tell.