The radicalism of the Agriculture Act should work for farmers – but they will make their feelings known if not
Regardless of its political support, the new Act faces substantial latent opposition in farming and land management circles, writes Lord Clark. | PA Images
We can throw off the shackles of the CAP and devise an agricultural support system specifically tailored to Britain.
For almost 50 years our farmers have received their state support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a cornerstone of the European Union. The result was that most of the £3.5bn of annual subsidies went to the larger farms and thus the richer owners. Now we have left the EU, we can throw off the shackles of the CAP and devise an agricultural support system specifically tailored to Britain.
The government rose to the challenge and introduced a very radical and exciting Bill which passed both Houses of Parliament in November as the Agriculture Act 2020. Members from all parties generally were supportive of the government’s proposals with it being left to practicing farmers to raise pragmatic objections to the new approach.
More than 80% of the payments under the CAP went to UK farmers in the form of direct payment based on how much land they farmed. Under the 2020 Act farmers can be paid for producing public goods such as animal welfare, environmental improvements and tree planting. In addition, attention is paid on the amount and quality of food produced in the UK as well as to food security. The Act applies wholly to England but only to a limited extent in the remaining three nations of the UK.
The government have committed to retain the same level of financial support to farming and have published a detailed plan of the transition plans for the years until 2028 when the changes will be complete.
Commendably, it has linked the new support system to climate change and in particular to its own net zero commitment under the auspices of the UN. It intends to promote its new agriculture support system at the UN Framework Convention on Climate change to be held in Glasgow in November 2021.
Farmers have made it clear they intend to engage with government if they are dissatisfied
A long time interest of mine has been the upland areas. I have consistently argued that these areas should be supported in land management terms. There is no reason why animal grazing cannot exist alongside tree planting, expansion of wildlife and peat bog preservation which are also crucial components to reducing our carbon reductions. Diversity can be the key to improved landscape and the environment.
Regardless of its political support, the new Act faces substantial latent opposition in farming and land management circles. December’s Brexit agreement with the EU has at least preserved the ongoing trade of agricultural products. The EU has been a substantial market for lamb and other meat thus reassuring upland farmers.
Farmers have already made it clear that they intend to engage with the government if they are dissatisfied which raises memories of the unpleasant antics of the pre-CAP days. What is clear that farmers will not remain quiet if things do not work out. What is clear that the new Act is a real culture change for them but there’s no reason why they cannot do so.
Leaving the EU and the commitment for reduced carbon emissions does justify the new Agriculture Act. It is realistic, radical and if we can stick to its proposals, is completely justified.
Lord Clark is a Labour member of the House of Lords.