U.K. Introduces Farm Bill With Seven-Year Brexit Transition

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. on Wednesday set out new agriculture legislation that replaces European Union subsidies for farmers post-Brexit and places more emphasis on environmental standards.

The Agriculture Bill introduced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to Parliament includes a seven-year transition period to help farmers cope once Britain leaves the EU. The legislation also details how farmers will be paid for criteria such as better water quality and animal welfare standards, replacing current direct payments linked to the amount of land farmed.

Gove has said that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is flawed because it benefits the richest landowners, and that Brexit gives the U.K. a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to change how it manages its land and rivers. While farmers and landowners who provide the biggest environmental benefits will be rewarded the most under the new system, most farmers will see a reduction in payments during the transition period, the government said.

Here are some other key parts of the bill, according to a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

  • The new environmental land management system will start from next year.
  • For 2019, direct payments to farmers will be work as they do now, and 2020 payments will be paid in a similar way.
  • Payments in England will be gradually phased out between 2021 and 2027.
  • The government will also try to make supply chains more transparent to help farmers get a better deal in the market.

The National Farmers’ Union said that farmers will be concerned that the legislation provides only a short-term commitment to increase their competitiveness. It also said the bill falls short in areas including measures for trade and securing a reliable workforce.

“With critical decisions still to be taken in the months and years ahead it would be foolhardy for the government to embark on such a path without knowing the trading environment in which it will be set,” NFU President Minette Batters said in a statement. “A free and frictionless trade deal with our biggest trading partner, the EU, is absolutely critical to the farming industry.”

Cheffins, which provides agriculture and rural business services, said that while many will support parts of the bill, farmers need reassurances that the industry will remain profitable after Brexit.

“Providing support until 2027 is a longer time frame than many feared, however there will be questions raised about what will happen following this date,” Katie Hilton, an associate at Cheffins, said in a statement. “Future-proofing has never been more important for the sector.”

Lawmakers will next consider the bill at a second reading, a date for which hasn’t been announced.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.