Whilst Brexit remains an ever-increasing frustration with the British public, the proposals regarding the future of farm subsidies and environmental management going forward are at least becoming clearer.
Assuming the EU ‘transition period’ ends as timetabled on 31st December 2020, 2021 will be the start of a new Agricultural Policy for England and Wales, with a 7-year transition period up to 2027. The current Agricultural Bill, which has the support of the main political parties, proposes phasing out current payments by 2028 with annual deductions of between 5% and 25% depending on farm size, and replacing BPS and Countryside Stewardship with a 25 year Environmental Plan that delivers ‘public money for public goods’ through the introduction of ELMs (Environmental Land Management scheme).
The development of ELMs is still in early stages and initially the scheme will be introduced as a number of on-farm pilot projects across the country to assess the feasibility, quality and delivery of innovative (and potentially less prescriptive) management practices, before wider release in 2025. Farm trials will be over-seen by an industry-led advisory group and funded via the restructuring of BPS payments, with the last application year for full BPS monies in 2021. There is also current consideration of whether to give farmers the option to receive a one-off BPS payment rather than tapered payments through ‘de-linking’, although the timing and reference period are still to be announced.
Under ELMs, Land Managers will be expected to prepare a Land Management Plan of their holding, including measures to protect and enhance environmental value. Although ELMs will be voluntary, uptake is expected to be high due to wider appeal, with payments linked to the value of environmental management carried out. These measures are likely to include soil and water protection, nutrient and carbon management, biodiversity enhancement, collaboration, animal welfare and public engagement.
Clearly a number of questions are still to be answered, not least the level of government funding for agricultural support; requirements to access ELMs; the linking of environmental management/outcomes to payments; the integration of short-term tenancies; and the protection of current stewardship agreements (Countryside Stewardship remains open up until 2024).
Encouragingly the Government is proposing a simplified application process, which is likely to include more straightforward on-line applications with flexible start dates, as well as monthly payments and a sensible farm inspection scheme.
If you would like to discuss the proposed changes to the subsidy regime please contact a member of the Agricultural Team, who would be happy to assist you.
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