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Norfolk’s rural leaders list local concerns not addressed in the government’s Agriculture Bill

PUBLISHED: 11:54 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:43 20 September 2018

A tractor ploughing a field near Fring. Picture: Ian Burt

A tractor ploughing a field near Fring. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk’s rural leaders said many of the county’s concerns about countryside funding and farming profitability remain unanswered in the government’s much-vaunted Agriculture Bill.

Defra’s “landmark” document, published earlier this month, outlines the post-Brexit policies which will replace the current system of payments and regulations when Britain leaves the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

It includes phasing out direct farm subsidies based on land ownership – over a seven-year transition period up to 2027 – to be replaced by a new Environmental Land Management System (ELMS) which will pay public money for “public goods”, such as environmental work, higher animal welfare standards, or public access to the countryside.

Norfolk’s response is based on views shared with Defra at a consultation event with the Norfolk Rural Strategy Steering Group and Norfolk County Council, which included local representatives from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Leader Local Action Groups, Community Action Norfolk, farmers and other local business owners.

The steering group’s report says: “There are a number of areas of concern raised in our response to the spring consultation which are not addressed in the bill, and other areas where detail of implementation is lacking.”

READ MORE: East Anglian farmers’ reaction to Agriculture Bill as environment takes centre-stage.

The group says concerns which were addressed include providing an outline timescale on the phasing out of direct payments, the statement that the new ELMS will be introduced from 2019, and provision for funding support in the case of “exceptional adverse market conditions”.

But the concerns raised by Norfolk stakeholders in the consultation which the group says were not addressed in the resulting bill were:

• “A ‘level playing field’ for food producers in relation to imports; guarantees protecting standards in relation to imports are not covered in the bill.”

• “Assurance that the bill’s proposals for funding based around ‘public good’ can be modified in the light of emerging trade arrangements may be needed.”

• “The bill does not acknowledge the considerable gap between the end of current rural development programmes and the proposed start of new programmes in 2021.”

• “The bill focuses on agriculture, and does not develop the themes of the rural economy and skills which were covered in the spring consultation and welcomed in our response.”

• “The bill does not address the particular environmental needs of certain landscapes and the need for a degree of local determination of environmental need and sensitivity.”

• “The proposal to ‘delink’ payments from ongoing land management raises a number of practical queries which need to be addressed.”

Barry Stone, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s business and property committee, said: “We are gathering feedback from our rural stakeholders on these initial responses to the bill and will be collating all those views into a briefing for our MPs to ensure that the Norfolk voice is heard in developing the legislation.”

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