On the 11th February 2020, the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 began its Committee Debate, following the 2nd Reading on the 3rd February, and its 1st Reading on the 16th January. With the UK now having departed the EU, the pressure has intensified to introduce new regulatory frameworks for agriculture. The implementation of the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 will bring significant changes to food production across the UK. The new legislation is now in the committee stage, having gone through three sittings with the third on 13th February. There are six more debates at the committee stage, with the final one due to occur on the 10th March 2020.

The first and second sittings of the debate were attended by committee members and witnesses from the agricultural and environmental/sustainability sectors. We give a brief update here of some of the comments made at the Committee Debate.

The shortcomings of the CAP and, by implication, the opportunities offered by the introduction of the Agriculture Bill were discussed with Jim Egan, technical adviser from Kings stating, “From my perspective, one shortcoming is that the current system does not allow fully integrated environmental and farming management.”

The ability of UK agriculture to compete with imports was a hot topic, with several MPs questioning the witnesses about concerns that the Bill doesn’t yet provide for potential trade deals which may be struck in the wake of Brexit. Martin Lines, the UK chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, agreed that some provision was required, either in the Bill or in future trade agreements: “We are told to produce to a standard, but if different standards are allowed to be imported, how can we compete?”

The strong link between the Agriculture and Environment Bills were exemplified in this debate, with Caroline Drummond, chief executive of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), noting that the Environment Bill provides many of the metrics which will impact farmer’s road maps for achieving Net Zero, “There are some really good opportunities to align our ambition… with delivering against some of those areas.” Notwithstanding, there was support for climate change targets to be written into the Bill, which was written prior to the declaration of the climate emergency, with witness Thomas Lancaster (acting head of the RSPB) declaring support for “a sector-specific target for Net Zero by 2040.”

The legislation will continue through the committee stage, which will be followed by a report stage and 3rd reading, before moving to the House of Lords for further scrutiny. No date has been set for the commencement of the reporting stage. ADAS will continue to watch this rapidly evolving policy environment and bring updates and insights on how the new legislation will impact upon UK agriculture and food production. The Bill allows for new devolved powers for Northern Ireland and Wales, which may also bring their own, separate changes.

As the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 moves closer to becoming law, the extensive change and opportunities created for the food and farming sector over the coming decade will require significant preparations to be made. The Bill 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.

John Cross, chair of the Traceability Design User Group commented on this in the Committee Debate, “We are entering a very different scenario. Some farmers will need considerable help in changing that mindset and getting used to a new environment because it will require a lot more proactivity from the point of view of seeking rewards for those public goods.” ADAS can actively support this transition.

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.