Rushed transition to new agriculture policy will put at risk better future for food, farming and the environment

23 April 2018

While backing the Government’s ambition for a new policy that supports both profitable food production and environmental work, the CLA cautions against a poorly devised transition phase. This warning is at the fore of the CLA’s response to the Government’s Health & Harmony consultation on the future of food, farming and the environment, which CLA President Tim Breitmeyer will be discussing with Defra Secretary Michael Gove today.

The organisation represents 30,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales. It says the transition should instead be broad and gradual to allow people and businesses time to adapt and to encourage all farms, not just the biggest, to prepare for change.

The CLA has set out three crucial pre-conditions that it says must be met before beginning any transition away from the BPS payments system. These are firstly to have absolute clarity on the long-term EU/UK trade arrangements; secondly a clear plan for investing in boosting agricultural productivity during transition; and thirdly clarity on what the long-term replacement system that will work for all sectors will be, and how it can be introduced.

It argues that only when these preconditions are satisfactorily met should a transition start. Once underway reductions in BPS payments should take place in manageable increments spread across the farming industry, not through arbitrary caps that will put larger farming operations at serious business risk.

CLA President Tim Breitmeyer said: “A policy where profitablefood production and environmental work go hand in hand, based on a framework of realistic payment for delivering public goods, is the right long-term approach. But it will only be achieved through a carefully planned transition that gives all farm businesses the time and the certainty they need to adapt and prepare for a new policy that has been rigorously tested and has broad support.

“Bringing the current system to a hurried end before the new policy is up and running will leave farm businesses at a cliff edge. An industry in crisis will not be able to forge a strong and sustainable future for food, farming and the environment.

“This is why, once it starts the transition phase must see BPS payments reduced in small increments rather than abrupt drops and an arbitrary cap. At the same time Government and land managers must work together to bring in a coherent scheme for fair payment for public goods work. Finally, Government can champion the move to a new future for farming through targeted incentives to improve productivity and support for market development.”

The CLA’s primary recommendations in its consultation response are that:

  1. To fulfil ambitions for public goods delivery the Government must not reduce current levels of spending post 2022.
  2. Payments for delivery of public goods must deliver profits for businesses, they must provide sufficient incentive to ensure broad engagement. It must come with an effective delivery mechanism which has been shown to work.

The Government must revisit its proposals for transition to a new system, including to cap payments, which put at risk businesses which could thrive under a new public money for public goods model.