The future of farming in the UK

Robyn Harper
By Robyn Harper

January 2020

Rural Surveyor Robyn Harper has been casting an eye over the Agriculture Bill, as outlined by the CLA, which the government put forward on 15 January 2020.

The future of farming in the UK

The Bill includes a multiannual framework, broadening the scope of financial assistance to include soil health, plant and animal genetic resources and for processing and marketing by a producer. There are also provisions for reporting on food security, and to ensure that food production is taken into account when designing schemes.

This Bill is a crucial part of the Government’s planning for future farming and land management policy. The Bill will be debated for the first time by MPs in late January. It is expected to become law in the summer of 2020.

The salient points include:

Financial assistance

This Part of the Bill provides the powers to make payments for a range of public goods. The Bill outlines the range of public goods that will extend beyond environmental delivery, and include landscape, access and animal welfare. The range of public goods the English government envisages delivering is:

  • Managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment
  • Supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland and better understanding of the environment
  • Managing land or water in a way that maintains, restores or enhances cultural heritage or natural heritage
  • Preventing, reducing or protecting from environmental hazards
  • Protecting or improving the health or welfare of livestock and plants.
  •  Soil Health
  • Livestock and Plant Genetics

In addition, there is the provision for the funding improvements in farming productivity which will replace the current Rural Development Programmes. In this version they have extended the financial assistance beyond simply improving the productivity of agriculture, horticulture and forestry activity, to include ancillary activities such as processing and marketing of products by the producer.

What this means for farmers and landowners

This provides the authority for a new payment for public goods model, where land managers will be paid for delivering environmental and other public benefits, subject to the rules of any new scheme which are yet to be determined. The measures which could be eligible for payment include:

  • Providing habitats for wildlife including maintaining hedgerows, nectar plots for pollinators or food sources for farmland birds
  • Reducing flood risk by a range of measures including planting trees and hedges
  • Preventing climate change through, for example, peatland restoration to protect the existing carbon store and reduce emissions of CO2
  • Improving public access to our countryside, which could include replacing access structures, enhancing public access
  • Protecting iconic features of our countryside through, for example, maintaining drystone walls or other historic features.

Direct payments after we leave the EU

In claim years 2019 and 2020 Basic Payments will be made in the same way they are now although the Government will look to make simplifications to make it easier to apply for and administer to increase value for money.

  • There will be a seven-year transition period from 2021 to 2027 when Basic Payments will be phased out completely.
  • Basic Payments may be “delinked” from the requirement to farm the land based on a reference year, and the Government will investigate the option of allowing a one-off lump sum payment in place of annual Basic Payments. This will not be until 2022 or later.
  • There will be changes to the administration of the Basic Payment Scheme to simplify, and greening requirements could be removed.
  • Food and agriculture markets
  • This Part enables the Government to provide financial assistance or carry other interventions in the case of exceptional adverse market conditions that will potentially cause significant damage to producers. It does not cover exceptional events such as extreme weather or disease outbreak unless they result in markets being disrupted and damage to producers.

Changes to tenancies

The most interesting part to feature in this section of the bill is the inclusion of changes to Agricultural Tenancies, please see below for a summary of these changes:

  • Requests for landlord’s consent or variation of terms: Change to the 1986 Act to allow tenants to refer to dispute resolution under certain conditions.
  • Succession on retirement, minimum age of retiring tenant: Change to the 1986 Act to remove the requirement of the minimum age of sixty-five before succession on retirement can be made, so that applications for succession on retirement may be made at any age in future.
  • Notices to quit, Case A (Council Farm retirement tenancies): Change to the 1986 Act remove sixty-five as the specified age when a retirement notice to quit can be issued by the landlord and replacing it with pensionable age.
  • Arbitration or third party determination of rent, relevant factors (to de-risk landlord investment): Change to the 1986 Act to specify that if, by written agreement, the tenant has agreed to make payments to the landlord for improvements to the holding that are wholly or partly financed by the landlord, such payments are to be disregarded from considerations of changes to rent and also that any benefit from the improvement to the tenant is also disregarded from rent considerations whilst the tenant is still making payments for that improvement.
  • Succession on death or retirement: conditions relating to the Commercial Unit Test and the Suitability Test: Change to the 1986 Act to repeal the provisions relating to the Commercial Unit Test so that they will no longer apply when the provision is commenced, and powers to replace with regulations that will determine a Suitability Test relating to the persons capacity to farm the holding to commercial high standard of efficient production and care for the environment.
  • Appointment of arbitrators: amendments to the 1986 Act and the 1995 Act to widen the list of persons able to make appointments of arbitrators under both Acts from the current provision of only specifying the President of RICS to also include the President of the CAAV, and the Chair of the ALA.
  • Notices relating to third party determination of rent: Changes to the 1986 Act to replace a demand for arbitration in the rent review process with a notice of determination which may be followed by either arbitration or third-party determination (where both parties agree to third party) if the rent review is not agreed by the parties. This enables a third-party to be appointed to resolve a rent dispute at any time before the rent review date (where both parties agree to that appointment) as an alternative to arbitration.

If you would like to discuss the ramifications from the draft bill please contact Robyn Harper 01258 472244 or your local Rural Services team across the region. 

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