As Brexit continues to be Brexit the new Agriculture Bill has commenced its way through the Commons with a first reading in October and now with Select Committee, prior to returning to the Commons in December from whence, if approved, it is passed up to the Lords.
It remains a Bill that is essentially an “enabling” bill with an enormous amount of small print to follow by way of statutory regulation. So what does it say?
In a nutshell (or perhaps a Constable landscape) Part 1 deals with empowering the secretary of State to make financial assistance in seven cases, the first five of which relate to managing water, public access, managing land or water to enhance natural heritage and mitigating climate change and managing land to protect from environmental hazards and Oh! At six and seven, “protecting and improving the health of Livestock “and “Plants” appears!
Financial assistance for starting or improving the productivity of agriculture, horticulture and forestry appears next then the varieties of financial assistance that can be given by way of grants, loans, guarantees or “other forms” which can be repayable and with conditions to follow.
Next clause covers powers to enforce, check and monitor on payments made and the payees of same, again conditions to follow.
Part 2 deals with the phasing out of the current Basic Payments scheme.
Payments to continue on a direct basis for seven years from 2021 with powers reserved to “improve” the system and you have guessed conditions to follow!
Part 3 introduces Agri-food supply chains looking I guess to a system that tracks the food/drink from producer to table and liability/responsibility of same.
Part 4 refers, interestingly, to the Secretary of States powers to “Declare exceptional market conditions” where financial assistance to Agricultural Producers in England should be made where incomes are being or likely to be adversely affected by that event.
Intervention Board ?
Part 5 deals with marketing standards for produce and carcass classifications with a wide remit and includes wine production.
Part 6 details producer organisations and fairness in the supply chain with some basic requirements for agri- product contracts.
Part 7 is about the WTO and agric agreements/regulation.
Part 8 deals with Wales and Ireland and Part 9, you have guessed it, provision for future regulation!
Whilst there will be much more to come what is becoming very clear is that food production and feeding our nation is not at the heart of this bill. The signals for the industry are clear future payments from the public purse are to be paid for issues that the general public wish to see and do. Diet and the court of public opinion have changed over the years sometimes the industry and public opinion are in step as on transparency in the food chain and use of local products sometimes less so on livestock issues. Climate change is also a driver and rightly so.
Farming has changed the landscape of this country for thousands of years and most farmers and landowners regard themselves as the guardians of that countryside for future generations and perhaps that approach does need to come to the consciousness of the general public.The countryside is not a chocolate box lid, it is a working environment and diseases are easily spread amongst livestock by those walking the countryside as well as by wild life and sometimes poor farming practices. Farm vehicles are large and need to move around the country lanes as well as those enjoying the view.
Farming, as well as the Environment needs some protection for the future and the good will of the general public.
So I would suggest, if bored over the Christmas period, a good look at the Act and its explanatory notes as well as many erudite papers currently available would be advisable because 2019 is likely to take us forward to a very changed farming environment and according to those erudite papers only 30% of the Industry are looking carefully at where they are to develop going forward. Food for thought indeed.