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Ed's Brexit round-up - a big week for agriculture

14th Sep 2018 / By Ed Barker

What a week it has been for UK Agriculture.

EdBarkerNPAFor the first time in decades the UK will have its own Agriculture Bill, as laid out in statute. Announced on Wednesday, it will be one of the earliest steps towards a truly independent farming policy from the EU, and it sets out some novel issues, but it also covers the things that anyone would expect any Government to oversee.

The Bill has to be in place soon, partly because there has to be some kind of legal underpinning to UK agricultural policy before March 2019 and in the case of a no deal. As expected, the Bill covers fairly dry, straightforward issues – outlining that there will be monitoring and enforcement bodies that replace EU institutions, powers to change carcase classification, intervention on the market etc.

Think of what the European Commission has the power to do and that is what the Bill is taking across to Defra and/or powers held by the Secretary of State. A Defra official told me that it was like any contract – most full of things that allow for what happens if things go wrong, and a small section on what positive things it can do proactively. The most interesting parts of the Bill for pig producers are:

  • A reduction in direct (BPS) payments over time, with progressive reductions by farm size, with total abolition until 2027. As these payments are phased out, new payments are brought in towards public goods.
  • Payments for public goods will include stewardship type schemes, flooding reduction, water, air and soil quality.
  • They can also ‘support action by farmers, vets and other organisations to improve animal health and welfare, reduce endemic disease and keep livestock well maintained and healthy’.
  • Examples given in the explanatory notes of the Bill are ‘measures to incentivise participation in health or disease control schemes, supporting the financing of testing for a particular disease or strengthening animal welfare outcomes, such as reducing the impact of health conditions and ensuring animals have access to materials that allow them to express their natural behaviour’. A positive signal in that health and welfare are deemed two sides of the same coin.
  • Grants or loans to help productivity are also included as something that Defra can offer – significant for us.
  • ‘Delinking’ payments to farmers who want to exit the industry early
  • Powers for the Secretary of State to make ‘regulations imposing obligations on first purchasers of agricultural products in relation to contracts with producers’ – i.e. set rules on unfair trading practices.
  • Powers for the Secretary of State to declare a period of exceptional market conditions and to give financial assistance to support farmers who have been affected (this is if supply goes up (less likely) or if supply is extremely short (more likely).
  • Defra will be able to collect and share data from those within or closely connected to the agri-food supply chain – to help productivity and support health and/or traceability.

On the day of the Bill’s presentation to Parliament, the NPA met with other UK farming unions to discuss the Bill, as well as other rexit related matters.

The meeting also the Secreatry of State himself Michael Gove attend, and provide a brief summary of the Bill. The key message was that whilst the Bill just lays the framweok down, there is still a lot of work and ideas to go through – namely what are those exact items that are going to be funded to replace direct payments.

On a positive note, our messaging regarding the need for carcase balance has take hold – he cited the pig sector as a challenge for ensuring balance of the carcase as a means to improving productivity and will take that forward with a new trade policy for the UK.

Much for us at team NPA to go through over the coming weeks as more detail comes through but it is a cautiously optimistic start of long process.

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