On 16 January 2020, the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 was introduced to Parliament in the 1st Reading, without debate, by Secretary of State for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, The Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers. The Bill last received significant Parliamentary time in 2018 and has been keenly awaited following the negotiations over Brexit. With the UK now leaving the EU on the 31st January 2020, it is full speed ahead for the related regulatory frameworks and new Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 will bring a high level of change to food production across the UK.

In the UK, agriculture is a devolved matter and each of the UK’s administrations will have specific additional approaches. The Agriculture Bill in Parliament on the 16th January 2020 sets out the future framework for agriculture for the years to come as the UK leaves the EU.

The Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 moves the UK beyond the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and enables the shaping of the core policy objective of supporting agriculture through the principle of public money for public goods and focuses on key environmental issues such as the protection and improvement of land, water and air; measures to support biodiversity; reduction of impacts from climate change; health and welfare of livestock and engagement and access to the environment, and essentially positions agriculture as a solution to key challenges facing society from climate change to loss of biodiversity and the wider threat to the environment and public health.

Changes since the Agriculture Bill 2018

When first introduced in Autumn 2018, the Agriculture Bill 2018 was widely thought to be progressive on key sustainability issues but was considered by many stakeholders to have little to no focus on food production as a public good. The newly introduced Agriculture Bill (now called Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 until it passes into law) has taken into account feedback, and subsequent work, to improve the position on a range of topics, including food security, that were not covered comprehensively in the previous 2018 Bill and takes the approach that sustainable agriculture and sustainable food production are mutually compatible.

In addition to the public money for public goods topics in the 2018 Bill, there is now a focus on food security and the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 now also includes:

Food Security – the UK Government will be required to report regularly to Parliament on food security

Financial Assistance Monitoring – monitoring, evaluation and reporting, by the Secretary of State, on the Government’s financial assistance schemes

Fertiliser Regulation – the power to regulate the fertiliser industry and will include updating the definition of fertiliser to take account of the latest technological advances

Organics Regulation – powers to tailor organics regulation to support UK producers so that the UK can continue to trade organic produce across the world

Animal Traceability Service – powers that allow a service provider to improve the collection and management of information relating to the identification, movement and health of animals

Soil Quality – Soil is now specifically named in the Bill so that financial assistance can be provided to farmers for protecting or improving soil quality.

Transition period

There will be a transition period from 2021 to 2027 enabling farmers 7 years to adjust to the new system. During this time, Defra will phase out Direct Payments in England, with the biggest reductions being applied to the higher payment bands from the first year. Through the de-linking of Direct Payments from the requirement to farm the land, this will give farmers the choice on how to use their payments and can be used, for example, for investment in improving farm productivity, business diversification or retirement from farming.

Applications for Countryside Stewardship agreements can still be made in the first years of the transition, allowing farmers to secure longer-term funding while the system changes. Countryside Stewardship allows individuals to put in place environmental practices that will help prepare for the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. See our news article on why to consider Countryside Stewardship during the transition.

The Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 will mean extensive change and opportunity for the food and farming sector over the coming decade and helps to address significant environmental challenges whilst aiming to reassure on issues of food production and food security as the UK sets out on its own in a post-Brexit World. The change is potentially transformative to the agriculture sector and will require a great deal of work and focus to support the transition.

The date for the 2nd Reading of Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 has not been confirmed, however, ADAS will watch what will now be a rapidly evolving policy environment and bring updates and insights on how the new legislation will impact UK agriculture and food production.

More information

ADAS is in a key trusted position to support all stakeholders in the drive towards compliance to the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020.

For more information and support, contact Sarah Wynn.