A New Dawn for British Agriculture

January 16, 2020

Agricultural history was made today with the reading of the Agriculture Bill 2019. Food security and livestock traceability are the cornerstones of the new bill, details of which were announced this morning. The bill provides a commitment to the public that British farmers will continue to produce high quality, traceable food.

The bill includes a stronger emphasis on soil, ensuring that landowners maintain healthy soils, the bedrock of profitable farming. The balance between food production and maintaining high environmental standards will ensure the continued production of high quality British food, celebrated throughout the world. Alongside required environmental standards will be an improved system for animal traceability, including identification, movements and animal health. There will be regulation of fertilizers, including updated fertilizer definitions as technology advances.

For the past three years, since Brexit appeared on the horizon, there has been huge amounts of uncertainty for those producing organic livestock and crops. Thankfully the government have tailored regulations so that producers can now continue to trade organic produce globally with no financial hit to their pockets.

The future of subsidies shows a strong commitment to the farming industry. There will be a seven-year transition period for UK farmers to move from the EU system based on the amount of land owned to a system of environmental land management contracts. Subsidies will for the most part stay at the current rate. About £3 billion a year in subsidies is allocated for the duration of the current parliament. However, payments are capped for larger landowners.

The bill also plans to de-couple payments from the current requirements to farm land. Ultimately, farmers do not want to be reliant on government support to earn a stable income. The new bill will put fewer restrictions on farmers, allow them to diversify their activities and enable new entrants with innovative ideas into the industry without suffering financial disadvantage.

The bill requires the government to report to parliament on UK food security. The report will provide a broad understanding of what food security is, the challenges and risks to UK food security in a global context, and a current assessment of the state of our food security to inform future policy.

A vital element of today’s bill champions British food by proving transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain from field to fork. The government will have the authority to collect data from farmers, food processers and retailers to ensure full traceability right through from the farm to the supermarket shelf. Vets, abattoirs and cattle markets are included within the chain. The trace will also include those who supply inputs such as feed as well as fertilizer manufacturers and machinery merchants.

Whether the new bill has gone far enough to ensure we compete on equal terms with countries across the globe will be seen in the coming months. One thing that is sure is that the bill is likely to pass through parliament quickly.

Janatha Stout