UK moves to axe direct payments post-Brexit

The UK Government is introducing its post-Brexit Agriculture Bill to Parliament in Westminster today (September 12) – with the proposal to end direct payments to UK farmers.

The Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, set out the policy to “invest in the environment and take back control for farmers after almost 50 years under EU rules”.

According to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for “public goods”.

Such “public goods” would include: better air and water quality; improved soil health; higher animal welfare standards; public access to the countryside; and measures to reduce flooding.

This will replace the current subsidy system of direct payments, which the UK department says is ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed.

These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits, Defra adds.

In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year.

The UK Government says it will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach.

Under the new system, farmers and land managers “who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards, laying the foundations for a Green Brexit”, Defra claims.

Research and development will apparently be a key component to increase productivity, with measures promised to facilitate this.

For 2019, direct payments for English farmers will be made on the same basis as now, subject to simplifications where possible. Direct payments for 2020 will also be made in much the same way as now.

Simplifications will be made as soon as possible, subject to the terms of the overall Brexit implementation period.

There will then be an agricultural transition period in England between 2021 and 2027 as payments are gradually phased out.

During the consultation, there was a widespread support for applying reductions to direct payments more widely.

Most farmers will therefore see some reduction to their payments during the transition, although those who receive the highest payments will see bigger reductions initially.

To help new entrants get into the sector and give farmers the flexibility to plan for the future, direct payments during the agricultural transition period up until 2027 will be “delinked” from the requirement to farm the land.

These payments, which may be calculated according to money received in previous years, can be used by farmers to invest in their business, diversify their activities or else retire from farming and give a way for new people to enter.