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Government sets out future of agricultural policy

In changes set out in a major speech by the Environment Secretary today, farmers could be paid for ‘rewilding’ land.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Environment Secretary George Eustace set out his opposition to the EU’s 2003 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms, saying they had “inflated land rents, caused people to hold onto land just to collect the payment when they might otherwise rent that land out.

“And with hindsight, therefore, the advent of area-based subsidies was probably a mistake in my view.”

Under reforms proposed by the Government, farmers and landowners in England could be paid to turn large areas of land into nature reserves, or to restore floodplains, under new government agriculture subsidies. The Secretary of State unveiled next stage plans to reward farmers and landowners for actions which benefit the environment, supporting sustainable food production alongside vital nature recovery and work towards net zero.

Under the EU’s CAP, money was given to farmers on the amount of land they farmed. Many criticised the system – more land held, the more cash received. In 2020 around £3.5bn was handed out. The Government instead wants to reward farmers for practices introduced to improve the environment.

In his speech, the Environment Secretary said “the concept behind the approach that we are taking now to future policy is fundamentally different to that which we inherited from the EU. 

“These new payments will not begrudge farmers a margin for doing the right thing for the environment, and in that sense they will represent a departure from the income foregone principle that was used by the European Union. Rates instead will be set at the level needed to incentivise uptake required on the scale we need to deliver our environmental objectives.”

The Environment Secretary’s full speech can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/environment-secretary-shares-further-information-on-local-nature-recovery-and-landscape-recovery-schemes

Final thought:


Reforms to agricultural policy are complicated and controversial. You don’t have to remind the Blair Government of the protests by farmers over the introduction of the 2003 CAP reforms. The Secretary of State’s reforms outlined today were already under fire even before he got to his feet with environmental lobby groups highlighting that the reforms do not go far enough – particularly on the usage of pesticides and commercial fertilisers.

However, the Government deserves credit for outlining detailed policy in this area, yet they may find that implementation is going to be extremely difficult. How will the new scheme be regulated and how will payments at this scale be managed? How will the data be processed – what resource will be made available for local government to police the schemes. These are all questions unanswered by today’s speech. The Government has begun the process of communicating its ideas, lets hope that farmers and regional/local government get a seat at the table to ensure implementation is as effective as possible.

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