Gove’s Agriculture Bill confirms new animal welfare payments

Public payments for delivering higher animal welfare on farms are set to be available from 2020, under a new post-Brexit agricultural policy for England.

Defra Secretary Michael Gove will set out the framework for a UK agricultural policy after we leave the EU as the Agriculture Bill is published today. It will be based around the principle of using ‘public money for public goods’ to deliver a ‘Green Brexit’.

Direct payments will be phased out, but there will be a seven-year agricultural transition period, starting in 2021, to give farmers time to adjust. Mr Gove said the current direct payment system was ‘ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed’.

A new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year and over the next decade payments will increasingly be targeted at ‘public goods’ to deliver better environmental outcome, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, measures to reduce flooding and public access to the countryside.

There will also be funding for higher animal welfare standards, details of which will be fleshed out with the industry. Today’s announcement sets out a timetable for the introduction of the new policy.

It includes defining new higher animal welfare standards and agreeing an ‘industry leadership role’ in late-2019/early-2020. The first welfare pilots will begin in 2020 and animal health interventions will be agreed with industry. Measures to promote animal health and welfare are expected to be ‘fully up and running’ by 2026.

Defra said 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, he said.

While there has been unease in the industry since Mr Gove took office that his vision for a Green Brexit could come at the expense of their ability to produce food, Defra stressed that 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 research projects, for example on soil health or sustainable livestock farming. The government will also be able to make payments during the seven-year transition period for famers to invest in new technologies and methods that boost productivity.

This could, for example, take the form of enabling on-farm investment in equipment and technology to deliver public goods and supporting new entrants to get into farming. There could also be funding to improve resilience, for example prevention of plant pests and diseases.

The Bill also sets out how the government will strengthen transparency in the supply chain to help farmers get a better deal in the marketplace. By collecting data from across the supply chain, the government will help food producers strengthen their negotiating position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return, Defra said.

Mr Gove described the introduction of the Bill as ‘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.”

The end of direct payments

  • 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. Simplifications will be made as soon as possible, subject to the terms of the overall Brexit implementation period.
  • There will then be an agricultural transition period in England between 2021 and 2027 as payments are gradually phased out.
  • Most farmers will see some reduction to their payments during the transition, although those who receive the highest payments will see bigger reductions initially.
  • To help new entrants get into the sector and give farmers flexibility to plan for the future, direct payments during the agricultural transition period up until 2027 will be ‘delinked’ from the requirement to farm the land.
  • These payments, which may be calculated according to money received in previous years, can be used by farmers to invest in their business, diversify their activities or else retire from farming and give way for new people to enter, Defra said.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.