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NPA welcomes shift in focus in new Agriculture Bill

16th Jan 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has welcomed an increased focus on food production in the reintroduced Agriculture Bill but is reserving judgement until the policies are in place.

Villiers OFCDefra Secretary Theresa Villiers has today reintroduced the Bill, setting out a new path for domestic agriculture policy in England after we leave the EU.

The big focus remains the environment, with a seven-year agricultural transition from the current direct payment regime to a system where farmers receive ‘public money for public goods’, such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. There will be a big focus on soil quality.

Much of this will be delivered through the new Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme, the pilots for which will begin early in the transition period.

There is, however, more focus on food in this second iteration of the Bill. Defra said the new Bill ‘champions British food’ by improving transparency and fairness in the supply chain from farm to fork. 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, it said.

Investing in new technology and research ‘to ensure our world-renowned food producers remain competitive and innovative’ and in the foundations of food production, such as clean air, soils and water, will safeguard our food security, it added.

The Bill will legally require any UK government to report regularly on food security to Parliament.

The funding available for Direct Payments for 2020 will be the same as for 2019. For subsequent years, the Government is committed to matching the current budget available to farmers in every year of this Parliament, while phasing out direct payments in favour of rewarding the provision of ‘public goods’.

NPA reaction

EdBarkerNPANPA senior policy Ed Barker said the Bill sets out the overarching direction of policy, but remained light on policy detail.

“We will therefore have to reserve judgement. But there is certainly more emphasis on food production and security in this version of the Bill than in the original published by Michael Gove last year, a reflection that Defra has listened to NPA and others across the food and farming sector.

“In particular, we welcome the supply chain measures – the NPA will support any initiatives that improve transparency across the supply chain and ensure fairer supply chain relations. We look forward to working closely with Defra on that.

“As a previously unsupported sector, we see opportunities under the new agricultural policy for support to improve productivity and efficiency on pig farms and to help producers invest in new technology that can deliver these aims and also help the sector maintain and improve on our high environmental standards. We are also keen to see funding used to deliver a health and welfare strategy for the pig sector.

“But we will continue to fight against any attempts to drive domestic farm policy in a direction that makes UK producers uncompetitive in the global marketplace.

"We cannot look at this in isolation from trade policy, which, as we raise standards, must not allow imports of food produced using methods not permitted in the UK."

Environmental reform 

”Mrs Villiers said described the Bill as 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’.

“We will move away from the EU’s bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy and towards a fairer system which rewards our hard-working farmers for delivering public goods, celebrating their world-leading environmental work and innovative, modern approach to food production,” she said.

“We will continue to champion British produce and support farmers to adapt to our new pioneering approach to agriculture through a seven-year transition period in England, ensuring we unleash the potential of our farmers for the future.”