Spot Light on: Future Farm Policy

Defra has published a policy statement outlining its plans for farm support in England.  This is to accompany the Agriculture Bill as it enters the Committee stage in Parliament.  A summary is given below.


The plans for the ‘Agricultural Transition’ as set out in the original Statement of September 2018 remain unchanged.  Direct payments (i.e. BPS) will be phased-out starting in the 2021 year, with 2027 being the last year any will be made.  The phasing process is still unknown with only the first year’s deductions being set (see table).  Again, these are unchanged from what has been announced previously.  A few new points emerge from the document;

  • deductions in future years will depend on the funding required for other elements of the Government’s plans.
  • delinking of payments from land will occur during the Transition.  This will happen from 2022 at the earliest.  Once this is done, there will be no link between land occupation and payments, and entitlements will disappear – there will just be a right to support for the business or individual claiming in a reference period.  There will be no requirement for that business to carry on farming.  A consultation is promised on the mechanics of delinking
  • when delinking occurs, there will be no link between land and subsidy, so the cross-compliance regime will end at this point.  Defra plans to bring in an alternative regulatory regime.
  • the option to allow the delinked payments to be capitalised into a one-off lump sum is still being considered.

As Direct Payments are phased-out, various new schemes will be introduced.  The main replacement for the BPS in England will be Environmental Land Management (ELM).  The shape of the new scheme is becoming clearer, it contains strong echoes of the previous Environmental Stewardship (ES) scheme with an entry level, broad-and-shallow, tier and higher level options.  Underpinning the scheme is the idea that land managers will only be paid for ‘public goods’.  Six key categories of public goods have been set out; clean air, clean & plentiful water, plants & wildlife, beauty heritage & engagement, hazard protection and climate change, with the latter two coming more to the fore than previous schemes.  The current plan is for ELMS to be based on a three-tier model;

  • Tier 1 – a broad (and shallow) offer available to all farms. Likely to have a menu of options and be managed online.
  • Tier 2 – this will require more intensive management from farmers. It is likely that a whole-farm plan will have to be drawn up (possibly by accredited advisors).  The focus will be on rewarding farmers for positive management such as biodiversity, flood management, carbon storage, landscape heritage etc.
  • Tier 3 – this aims to get groups of landowners to work together to deliver widespread change.

As well as annual payments there will also be capital grants available.  Payment rates are yet to be set.  However, unlike previous EU schemes they will not be limited to ‘income foregone’.  Therefore, payments may be set at more attractive levels.  Pilots will start in 2021 continuing through to 2024, the intention is for the scheme to be rolled out in full in 2025.

Aside from ELM, the policy Statement sets out other initiatives which may be available for farmers and foresters, these include; advice, a change to farm regulation, farm diversification via the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, animal health & welfare, and productivity support.

Just from this brief summary, it is hopefully clear that Defra has big plans now that it is free to set English farm policy.  Although it will not all happen overnight, there is still a large shopping list of initiatives.  There will be a question of whether Defra (and the wider Government) has the capacity to deliver them all, and deliver them well.  

A Monthly Briefing for UK Farmers – March 2020

  • The window for Countryside Stewardship (CS) applications in England opened on 11th February, for agreements which will commence on 1st January 2021.  This covers Higher Tier, Mid-Tier, Hedgerows & Boundaries Grants and the Wildlife Offers. The deadlines for each scheme are set out below.  The schemes are now being run under domestic legislation rather than EU rules, however there are no major changes, although the new UK regime should make record keeping and inspections less onerous.

  • Further information and the new manuals are available on the GOV.UK website at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/countryside-stewardship-get-paid-for-environmental-land-management . With the BPS starting to be phased out from 2021 and the ELM not being fully rolled out until 2025 (see later article) is it worth having another look at what the CS can offer? * also includes Wildlife Offers paper application
  • The 2020 BPS application window in England is expected to open online on 12th March, with those who still wish to make a paper claim receiving their application forms shortly after this date.  The Land Use screen is already available for those who wish to check the information is correct ahead of their application. However, note that the mapping update work is expected to continue until around 10th  In Wales, the Single Application Form (SAF) 2020 was available from 2nd March, guidance and information is available online.  The deadline without penalties is the usual 15th May.  A reminder that RPWales must be notified of the transfer and lease of entitlements by 30th April (15th May in England), for them to be used for a 2020 claim.
  • The Government is consulting on what tariffs to impose once the Brexit Transition Period ends on the 31st This is key for UK farming, as it sets the level of protection the industry has from low-cost agricultural imports from the rest of the world.  For the past 40 years, UK farming has benefited from the EU Common External Tariff (CET), but after Brexit, the Government has to implement its own trade policy.  The consultation can be found at – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/863880/Approach_to_MFN_Tariff_Policy.pdf.  
  • The Government’s plan for a post-Brexit immigration scheme look set to cause problems for farming and the wider food chain.  Free movement of labour for EU citizens will end on the 31st December 2020.  From that point, potential immigrants from the EU and the rest of the world will be treated in the same way.  There will be a points system that will require immigrants to speak English, have a job offer, and that job to pay more than £25,600 p.a. This threshold can be lowered in some cases i.e. if the job is in a ‘shortage occupation’.  It seems unlikely that any farming jobs will be included on this list.
  • George Eustice has been promoted to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  Mr Eustice was previously a junior Minister (Minister of State) in Defra, responsible for agricultural matters.  Victoria Prentis has been appointed as the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defra and will take on Mr Eustice’s agricultural role within the department.
  • The AHDB has released its latest version of the Nutrient Management Guide; RB209. The main changes to the revision include new recommendations for the use of Phosphate in arable crops.
  • At the time of writing Defra had not announced any derogation to the three crop rule.  It is worth reiterating that fallow land is classed as a ‘crop’ and that spring and winter varieties are also treated as separate crops based on the variety grown and not the date when sown.  In addition where a crop has been planted but subsequently fails it can be counted as the original crop (field records will need to be kept if evidence is required on inspection).  Lastly, for those who will struggle to get anything or very little drilled, there are also exemptions to the Crop Diversification rules; where more than 75% of the arable area is left fallow (or is used for temporary grass or planted with leguminous crops) the three crop rule does not apply.

Land & Rental Values

Latest results from the RICS/RAU Land Survey reveal a mixed picture for farmland values.  The data covers the second half of 2018 and shows the Transaction-Based Measure falling back considerably to below the benchmark £10,000 per acre level.  The average price for H2 2018 was £9,571 per acre (£23,650), some 16% down on the first half of the year and 8% lower than the corresponding period in 2017.

The Transaction-Based measure can be quite variable as the number of sales is relatively small (and the series also includes sales with a residential element).  The Opinion-Based measure is a hypothetical estimate of surveyors of a bareland price for agricultural land.  This has moved in the opposite direction for the second half of last year to £7,638 per acre (£18,873 per Ha).  Within this, arable land values recorded a small decline, but pastureland experienced an increase.

RICS/RAU Rural Land Values 1998-2018

Looking ahead, contributors to the survey suggest uncertainty in the marketplace is affecting demand with a net balance of -16 expecting demand to rise.  In contrast, they are expecting more land to come to market over the next year, a net balance of +6.  No data is available on contributors’ price expectations for the coming year.

The Survey also includes information on land rents in England and Wales.  All categories recorded an increase in the second half of 2018, compared to the first six months of the year.  The results are in the table below:

Farm Rents in England & Wales – RICS/RAU
 Half YearArable (£/acre)Pasture (£/acre)
AHA 86ATA 95AHA 86ATA 95
H1 2017751465394
H2 2017781415893
H1 2018761445793
H2 20188014960104

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

Brexit Reaching Tipping Point

On 15th January, the Government suffered a historic defeat (by 230 votes) in its first bid to get Parliament to accept the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration.  As a result, the sense of chaos and uncertainty in Westminster has accelerated. Whilst it is clear that the Parliament does not want this deal (in its current form), what is not clear is what sort of deal there would be a majority for.  The EU is clear that the ball is now in the UK’s court and the Prime Minister, assuming she wins today’s confidence vote, needs to set-out a plan by Monday.  Following last month’s article, below is an update of the potential options available in the coming weeks and months.  It is likely that a combination of these will be required.

  • Cross-party dialogue: this is the most obvious first-step that the Government needs to take and the noises from Downing St. suggest that it has already started to do this.  However, such an approach does not have much chance of succeeding if additional options to the PM’s deal are not considered.
  • Indicative votes: have been suggested by several MPs as a means to break the deadlock as the votes would be non-binding. It would help to gauge what there could be a majority for in the House of Commons.  The scale of the Government’s defeat on the Withdrawal Deal shows that another vote on the current deal has no chance of succeeding unless it can be changed fundamentally.
  • Renegotiate with the EU: on numerous occasions during the Brexit process Westminster has been operating in a silo and has not sufficiently considered the EU’s perspective in the negotiations.  Whilst some form of Brexit might eventually emerge as a favoured arrangement within the House of Commons, it has no chance of succeeding without agreement by the EU.  What is clear is that the EU will not back-down on the backstop and the UK Government’s strategy of trying to isolate Ireland has back-fired at every juncture.  It is therefore clear that if the UK wants to dilute the backstop, which is detested by many in Westminster, a lighter form of Brexit will be required. Below are some of the possibilities available;
    • Norway Plus / Common Market 2.0 – both of these options are broadly similar and essentially amount to the UK being within the European Economic Area (EEA) similar to Norway.  But, in addition, the arrangement would include agricultural products and the UK being part of a Customs Union.  As mentioned previously, this option has gained traction but the big drawback is that Freedom of Movement would have to be accepted, and as this was a major reason for the Leave vote in the first place.  It is unlikely to be favoured by many in the Labour party. Added to this, the UK would not have voting rights, would probably have to pay into the EU budget, and could not strike its own trade deals.  Therefore, it continues to be very difficult to see this arrangement being successful without some form of emergency brake on immigration as a minimum, even then it presents grave difficulties. 
    • Customs Union with the EU: this is  the favoured option by the Labour party as it would go some way towards addressing the Northern Ireland border but would potentially curtail free movement.  However, on its own, it would not prevent border checks on the island of Ireland as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks would still be required.  Unless the UK could agree some form of regulatory equivalence agreement with the EU, of the kind that has never been reached before, then Brussels will continue to insist on a backstop. It would also mean an independent UK trade policy for goods would be largely redundant.
    • Free-Trade Agreement with the EU: an accord similar to the CETA agreement with Canada is championed by many Brexiteers as the panacea to the current impasse and they claim that it will also address the Irish border problem.  A cursory assessment of the EU’s Official Controls Regulations (2017/625) would show that this is simply not the case, as SPS border controls would still be required on the island of Ireland.  Such controls would of course be unacceptable to the DUP and the famed technological solutions are years away (and some doubt whether they are feasible at all). 
  • Second Referendum: this is still the favoured option amongst many Remain MPs, however, as with all other options, there is not a majority in Parliament for this and the Labour leadership is lukewarm to say the least.  Even if a majority of MPs decided on a second Referendum, the path ahead would be fraught with difficulties.  Firstly, what question(s) would need to appear on the ballot box to reflect the now diverse range of opinions in the UK (from No Deal to No Brexit).  Secondly, it could lead to social instability as there would be heated opposition in some quarters and would at least entail another six months of uncertainty.  Some would argue that another Referendum, if framed correctly, could at least lead to a definitive answer (e.g. if Leave won, then the issue is dead for a generation).  However, all indications suggest that it would be another close vote, and if anything has been learned in the last few years is that the British public do not want more of the same, no matter what the outcome is.
  • No Deal: continues to be the default option and with 72 days until Brexit, its likelihood increases by the day, particularly if the House of Commons does not pass a cast-iron guarantee that No Deal will not happen. As outlined in previous issues, a No Deal has the potential to severely damage UK farming, especially as it may well eventually encompass a liberal trade policy with respect to imports.  On 16th January, the NFU has emphasised its view that a No Deal would be catastrophic for UK farming and most business associations agree with this view.  From an Irish perspective, a No Deal also presents a major dilemma.  If it does not introduce some forms of regulatory checks on produce coming in from the UK (including from Northern Ireland) in the event of a No Deal, then this may be viewed unfavourably by customers elsewhere in the EU and non-EU, who may in-turn place some additional controls on Irish produce. Such a development would have damaging ramifications for the Irish economy, whilst the re-introduction of a hard border would have severe social consequences. In such a situation, it is therefore likely that the Irish Government would first seek to introduce temporary measures along the border (citing safety concerns), similar to what was done during the foot-and-mouth crisis in 2001.  It could potentially keep these for weeks if not months in the hope that a more sustainable Brexit outcome could be achieved.  However, even such a temporary move is also likely to entail problems.
  • Extension to Article 50: all of the options set-out above contain unpalatable elements.  With the time relentlessly ticking towards the 29th of March and numerous Bills and secondary legislation still required to be passed by the Commons, the prospect of an extension to Article 50 grows by the day.  Rumours circulating in Brussels suggest that preparations are being made for a formal request by the UK for an extension and while a period of 3-months is doable (i.e. till early July) a longer period would present legal problems for the European Parliament if the UK is still a Member State and has no MEPs. Therefore, if an extension is to be accepted by the EU and its Member States, it will need to be coupled with a clear plan from the UK as to what form of Brexit or plan of action it could agree on which could be countenanced by the EU.

Overall, it now appears that an extension to Article 50 will be required and another attempt will be made by the Government to get some form of Withdrawal Agreement passed by the Commons.  It would appear prudent to do this after indicative voting to discern what sort of a deal would garner a majority, bearing in mind what would also be acceptable to the EU.  If the Government fails at the second attempt to pass a deal, much will then depend on Labour.  If it attempts another confidence motion and loses, will it call for a second Referendum?

Many questions remain. All the while, agri-food businesses have to try and cope with all of the uncertainty which does not show signs of dissipating just yet.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

Cross compliance

The new Cross Compliance year started on 1st January. Cross Compliance is made up of Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) and standards for Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions of land (GAECs) which farmers and land managers must adhere to on their holding if they are claiming for the Basic Payment Scheme or the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, Environmental Stewardship or parts of the English Woodland Grant Scheme.

The RPA has published the 2017 edition of the Guide to Cross Compliance in England, there is only one change to the rules for this year. This is to GAEC 1, which sees the introduction of 2m buffer strips next to watercourses in all fields not just those over 2ha in size. The guide is only available online this year and can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cross-compliance-2017. The site also includes a video, giving an over-view of what claimants can expect if they are inspected. See Key Dates below for Cross Compliance rule reminders throughout the year.