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New agriculture bill ‘will benefit East Anglian farmers’, says government

PUBLISHED: 01:05 12 September 2018

A combine harvester working in a wheat crop in Mid Suffolk during harvest 2018 Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

A combine harvester working in a wheat crop in Mid Suffolk during harvest 2018 Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

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East Anglian farmers “will be gainers” from a new era for subsidy payments, the government pledged as it prepared to unveil its much-anticipated Agriculture Bill.

Environment secretary Michael Gove Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU/PA WIREEnvironment secretary Michael Gove Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU/PA WIRE

To the relief of many, the long-awaited bill, to be introduced into Parliament today (Wednesday, September 12), will include a seven year transition period from 2021 - less than the 10 years farmers’ leaders were seeking, but more than some feared - to give farmers time to adjust to a new payments regime based on delivering environmental ‘public goods’, rather than on how much land they farm.

Pro-Brexit environment secretary Michael Gove, who described the bill as “an historic moment” leading to a “brighter future”, said government would underpin the new regime with measures to increase productivity and invest in research and development - two key focuses for bodies such as the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

The government has panned the current system of Direct Payments, based on total land farmed, as “ineffective”. “These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. The top 10% of recipients currently receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%,” it said.

Farming minister George Eustice argued this had driven up land rent prices, blocked new entrants to the industry and impeded opportunities for farmers to boost productivity and invest meaningfully in their business.

Farming minister George Eustice Picture: DEFRAFarming minister George Eustice Picture: DEFRA

“Farmers of East Anglia, who are among the most productive in the country, will gain in a number of ways from the bill. And the environment, upon which all of our futures depend, will be protected and enhanced so the next generations of farmers can continue to produce food alongside delivering benefits for nature and wildlife,” he said.

The transition period will also offer more certainty to farmers, controversially de-linking payments from the need to actively farm the land, currently a requirement under European Union law.

CLA East director Ben Underwood said a new payment body would be needed, arguing the Rural Payments Agency and Natural England were “not fit for purpose”. Any moves to enable older farmers to retire with ‘grace and dignity’ was welcome, he added.

A new Environmental Land Management System (ELM), based on the new principle of public money for public goods, will be trialled from this year.

“The Agriculture Bill sets the stage for a new order of more productive, environmentally-conscious and profitable land management,” said Mr Eustice. “I’d encourage all farmers with an interest to go online and find out more about the bill and what it means for you.”

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