The Agriculture Bill is proposing to radically change the way that food production and countryside stewardship is managed in the UK.
For many years, farmers has been paid a government subsidy, which has been set by the European Commission under the Common Agriculture Policy. This system of direct payments is linked to the amount of land farmed, and while there have been some incentives for environmental management, these are set to change.
Replacing Direct Payments
The intention of the Agriculture Bill is to provide a commitment to Direct Payments for 2020 and then to phase this out over a period of seven years and introduce a new ‘Environmental Land Management’ (ELM) scheme that is intended to reward investment in technology and other measures that will improve productivity and reduce environmental impacts.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Our landmark Agriculture Bill will transform British farming, enabling a balance between food production and the environment which will safeguard our countryside and farming communities for the future. This is one of the most important environmental reforms for many years, rewarding farmers for the work they do to safeguard our environment and helping us meet crucial goals on climate change and protecting nature and biodiversity.”
Need for meaningful data
The success of the scheme depends on the ability to collect meaningful data and analyse it effectively. This would need to include baseline data about the current state of the natural environment and market data from across the value chain.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director for Agri-TechE (formerly Agri-Tech East), comments: “We know our members – across the entire value chain – will welcome renewed progress of the Agriculture Bill through Parliament.
“There is an opportunity for some bold thinking, supported by high quality metrics, to help farmers improve their productivity and for “public goods” be quantified and delivered in a meaningful way.
“A number of organisations within the Agri-TechE network are developing and implementing new innovations and practices that will offer the necessary visibility, efficiency and sustainability needed in the agri-food system. We are confident these will be a crucial element of delivering new ambitious vision described by the Agriculture Bill.”
Countryside Stewardship offers transition
Individuals can still apply for Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements in the first years of the transition, allowing them to secure longer-term funding while the system changes. CS also allows individuals to put in place environmental practices that will prepare them for the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.