Farmer subsidies to continue beyond Brexit

The Secretary of State Michael Gove has set out proposals to continue subsidies for UK farmers after Britain leaves the EU.

In his speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, Gove proposed that the subsidies currently received by UK farmers from the EU would be maintained until 2022, with the potential of them continuing until 2024.

“We will formally leave the EU in March of 2019, but the government anticipates that we will agree an implementation or transition period for the whole country with the EU, lasting for around another two years,” he said. “We have guaranteed that the amount we allocate to farming support - in cash terms - will be protected throughout and beyond this period right up until the end of this parliament in 2022.

“We will continue support for Countryside Stewardship agreements, entered into before we leave the EU, and we will ensure that no one in an existing scheme is unfairly disadvantaged when we transition to new arrangements. We will pay the 2019 BPS scheme on the same basis as we do now.

“I then envisage guaranteeing that BPS payments continue for a transition period in England, which should last a number of years beyond the implementation period, depending on consultation.”

He did propose plans to reorganise subsidies and the amount that larger farms receive.

Gove added that farm inspection practices needed to be reviewed.

“We inspect too often, too ineffectively and in far too many cases for the wrong things. At any moment, a farmer could be visited by the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England, The Animal Plant and Health Agency, the Environment Agency or their local authority. Each body may ask for slightly different information, or even the same information in a slightly different way. Each visit adds to the burden on farmers, yet there is much overlap without proper coordination.

“That is why I hope to look at how we can reduce the number of inspections overall, make them more genuinely risk-based and have them focus on those, limited, areas where standards are not where they should be.”

He also said the government needed to invest in “environmental enhancement” to help farmers that place “thoughtful environmental practice and careful husbanding of resources at the heart of their businesses”.

Gove’s speech was welcomed by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Meurig Raymond, who said it was a “positive signal for the farming industry”.

“I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State talking about the need to invest in technology, skills and rural resilience - all of which he says are public goods.

“Michael Gove also spoke about the importance of delivering benefits for the environment, something that farmers already advocate and perform highly on. Mr Gove was absolutely right to recognise the vital contribution that uplands farmers have in maintaining their iconic landscape.

“Without the productive, resilient and profitable farm businesses across the country, we will not have the people to look after the natural environment.”

Raymond also praised the proposed transition period.

“A transition period that allows time to prepare properly for the introduction of a new agricultural policy is also welcome, during which an assessment can be made of the impact of Brexit on UK farming – on trade in the raw ingredients farmers produce, on farm businesses’ access to a competent and reliable workforce, and on the regulatory environment in which they operate,” he said. “The NFU is up for the challenge of working in partnership with government in reframing agricultural policy for the post-Brexit world. With adequate time to prepare, we can ensure that the introduction of an ambitious new policy framework - one that is suited to the needs of the farming industry and the expectations of the UK public - is managed properly and delivered successfully.”

Elsewhere, John Fishwick, president of the British Veterinary Association, called for more detail on animal welfare. “In equipping the next generation of farmers with the latest technology and training, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of continued side-by-side working between farmers and local vets in order to optimise animal health and welfare, productivity and competitiveness,” he said. “Vets are integral to food production, from farm to fork, [so they] must also be an integral part of any policy development, review and implementation.

“While Brexit presents an opportunity to tailor our agricultural policy, coordination and oversight across the UK remains crucial. We are keen to hear how agricultural policy, including animal health and welfare challenges, will be jointly tackled by the four administrations of the UK.”

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