Farming News Update- February 2020

  • The Agriculture Bill returned to Parliament on 16th January. This will set the framework for agricultural policy in England for the foreseeable future. The legislation is largely the same as in the original Agriculture Bill published in September 2018 – which ‘fell’ with the end of the previous Parliament prior to the General Election. Generally, it gives Ministers broad powers to undertake certain activities, without necessarily setting out in any detail how those powers might be used. A Policy Statement, similar to that which was published alongside the original Bill, was expected this time too. It might have provided more information on matters of detail. However, it has not yet appeared – it may be published when the Bill enters the Committee stage in Parliament. One point that can be taken from the Bill is the Agricultural Transition will happen, and looks certain to begin in 2021 – the NFU had been calling for a year’s delay. Therefore, the BPS will start being reduced from next year.
  • The Government has announced the 2020 BPS will be fully-funded at 2019 levels. In addition, it has also reiterated its Election promise to ‘match the current budget available to farmers in every year of this Parliament’ (due to end in 2024). Importantly, this simply guarantees the ‘pot’ of money (presumably at current prices rather than in real terms). It does not mean the BPS will remain at the same level in England. Budgets for 2020 can use 2019 payment levels, but funds will gradually be diverted away from the BPS during the 7 year Transition (starting in 2021) to fund the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. The funding guarantee applies across the UK, so the devolved administrations also know how much money they have when designing their support systems.
  • After 47 years and a month of being a Member State, the UK formally exited the European Union at 11pm (midnight CET) on the 31st January. Whether it actually signifies the delivery of the promise to ‘get Brexit done’ is another matter. There is much to be decided as the 2nd leg of the negotiations on the Future Relationship take centre stage. For agriculture, what we do know is that until the end of the year at least, the UK will enter a Transition Period where its trading relationship with the EU will remain effectively the same.
  • It is now possible for English farmers to transfer land and/or entitlements in preparation for this year’s BPS claim via the online system. In order for entitlements to be available for the 2020 BPS claim they must be transferred to the correct business by midnight on 15th May 2020.
  • The Countryside Stewardship (England) Regulations 2020 have been published. This will allow applications to be made to the scheme under our own domestic legislation now we have left the EU. The application window is expected to open in February. With the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme not expected to be available for a few years yet, and the BPS transition period starting in 2021, land managers may want to look at what the Countryside Stewardship can offer.
  • Claims for Round 2 of the Countryside Productivity Small Grant can be submitted now, the deadline for submissions is 31st May 2020. Make sure claims include all the information and evidence required as detailed in the CPSG Round 2 Handbook otherwise payments will be delayed.
  • We have had a few inquiries whether the three crop rule under Greening will be relaxed because of the wet weather. It does not appear that there will be a ‘blanket’ relaxation. RPA has released guidance, see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claiming-bps-2020-and-greening-payments-in-extreme-weather. In the main, it simply reiterates the different ways claimants can meet their crop diversification requirement. If you think you may have difficulty meeting the 3 crop rule contact one of our consultants.
  • The Glastir Entry and Advanced Support Scheme, is available to those whose 2019 claim will not be fully processed by the opening of the payment window (31st January). The scheme will pay up to 50% of the anticipated Glastir Entry & Advanced claim value (excluding capital works). This is an opt-in scheme which means claimants need to apply by 14th February 2020 if they wish to receive a support payment. Payments under the scheme are expected to start during the week commencing 24th February.
  • The application period to transfer or lease entitlements in Wales is now open. The deadline for applications is 30th April 2020 for entitlements to be in place for the 2020 BPS claim.
  • The Farm Business Grant in Wales will open from 2nd March to 10th April. Farmers can choose from about 80 items which have been deemed to improve the competitiveness of their business and also make it more environmentally friendly. Grants of between £3,000 and £12,000 are available.