What next for English agriculture?

On 30 November, the government published its Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, a document it has termed a “roadmap to a better, fairer farming system”. With just weeks left to go until the UK’s Brexit transition period expires, the UK will no longer be bound by the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from 1 January 2021. So, what does this mean for the future of English agriculture?

Rewarding farmers for promoting sustainability
Starting in 2021, England will begin its transition away from the “bureaucratic” CAP and towards new policies tailored to the interests of English farmers.

Under the outgoing system, farmers receive grants called ‘Direct Payments’ according to the amount of land they farm – meaning that the largest, richest farms often receive bigger grants, while smaller businesses and newcomers often receive the least support.

The government’s transition plan reveals that Direct Payments will be halved by 2024 and abolished by 2028; they will be replaced with a new Environmental Land Management (ELM) system, which will see farmers rewarded for investing in sustainable farming practices – or “public money for public goods”. The ‘public goods’ to be rewarded under the ELM include:

  • clean air
  • clean and plentiful water
  • thriving plants and wildlife
  • protection from environmental hazards
  • beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment
  • reduction of and adaptation to climate change.

Meanwhile, the money released from the windup of the Direct Payment scheme will be used to fund new grants and programmes to promote farming sustainability and productivity.

Investment in animal welfare
The government will also launch publicly funded incentives at the start of the UK’s agricultural transition to improve animal health and welfare. The aim is to prepare livestock farmers for a future in which these higher standards become the basic legal minimum. Initially, these initiatives will focus on controlling or eradicating endemic diseases in cattle, pigs and sheep.

This will include increasing the sector’s understanding of responsible antibiotic use in animals, at a time when many are concerned that the UK’s exit from the EU will pave the way for substandard livestock imports from countries such as the US, in which antibiotic and growth hormone use in farming is widespread.

Farming Investment Fund
A new Farming Investment Fund will also be set up to provide targeted support to farmers who are looking to invest in new equipment, technology and infrastructure in order to improve their profitability and benefit the environment. Based on a competitive process, higher-scoring applications will be more likely to win funding.

The scheme will be split into two strands to cater to higher and lower-cost investments. The lower-cost strand, entitled the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund, will offer grants towards the purchase cost of a specific list of items; the government is currently working with farmers, foresters, growers and experts to determine which items of equipment and technology should feature on this list.

The second strand, called the Farming Transformation Fund, will provide more substantial grants for investments in technology or infrastructure with the potential to transform business performance.

2028 – the end goal
According to the government, the changes will be rolled out over seven years so that, by 2028, farmers in England will be able to produce healthy food sustainably and profitably without subsidies.

By rewarding those producers committed to making sustainable and environmentally-friendly changes to the way they farm, the changes are also designed to work hand-in-hand with the UK’s wider target to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Here to help you transition successfully
The farming community is standing at the precipice of a period of immense change. With the English agricultural system set undergo a profound transformation and with Brexit still causing so much uncertainty across all business sectors, support from our specialist Agribusiness and Rural Property team could mean the difference between struggling or thriving through England’s agricultural transition. For expert advice and assistance, please email agriculture@woodfines.co.uk.

-Charlotte Benjamin 


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