Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Josh Kraemer, CFFO Communications Intern
On September 12, the new Agriculture Bill was introduced in the United Kingdom Parliament.
Once enacted, the legislation will cover a broad range of agricultural issues. Of interest in the press most recently is the discussion about the Agriculture Bill’s Environmental Land Management System that will pay farmers and land managers for environmental benefits, or public goods, that they create or preserve on their land. Qualifying actions will include ones that tackle climate change or preserve scenic rural landscapes, for example. The new approach to preserving and recovering environmental condition in rural landscapes will replace the subsidy system that has been used for direct payments to UK farmers as part of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The new Agriculture Bill proposals are said to improve on the previous EU subsidy system, which provides direct payments based on the total amount of land that is being farmed. According to a press release from the UK government, the former system has been deemed an ineffective way to pay farmers because these direct payments favour the largest landowners and not necessarily those providing the greatest public benefits. CAP payments are skewed, resulting in the largest 10% of recipients receiving half of the payments while the smallest 20% receive only about 2% of the payments. The new policy, dubbed “the Green Brexit,” seeks to change that.
The Environmental Land Management System is intended to instead pay the most to farmers and land managers providing the greatest environmental benefits. Michael Gove, who is the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said he believes that the bill “allows us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.”
The new bill includes a seven-year transition period to allow farmers time to adjust to the removal of the direct payment approach that currently exists, though all will likely see a reduction in payments at first.
An important aspect of the bill is the funding it offers to farmers and land managers to increase productivity and investments into research and development. Farmers will be able to collaborate on developing the projects they want, such as research into soil health or sustainable livestock farming.
The value of this approach is that those people closest to the land in their home regions know the land and therefore probably know best how to make improvements. This is very likely to be the case compared to bureaucrats in either London or Brussels.
Though the bill gives farmers more control over developing better farming practices, there have been criticisms about the lack of financial support towards producing food so that British farmers can better compete with the many farmers around the world who do receive such supports.
The new legislation in the UK raises an interesting perspective on future farming success that will take time and experience to assess regarding both environmental benefits generated and farm sustainability. On an encouraging note, the government is promising to provide for serious collaboration with farmers in designing the specific details of new programs once legislation is passed.