New “landmark” Agriculture Act 2020
On 11 November 2020, the Agriculture Act 2020 (AA 2020) received royal assent. The Act essentially gives the necessary powers to Ministers to develop new farm support systems, to intervene in agricultural markets in exceptional conditions, such as to provide farmers with financial support and to increase transparency and fairness in the supply chain for farmers and food producers. There is also an obligation for Ministers to consider the need to encourage the production of food in England in an environmentally sustainable way and to invest in the foundations of food production, such as clean air, soils and water, to safeguard our food security. The Act will require any UK government to report at least once every five years on food security to Parliament.
On the back of these powers, we know that direct payments will be phased out, starting in 2021, over a seven-year period. A new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) to pay farmers for producing ‘public goods’, such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding, will be brought in. This is a wholesale change from the current system of payments linked to amount of land farmed and a means to contribute to the effort to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
However, there is still much that we do not know, in terms of the balance of food production vs. environmental protection. Further details on government plans to support farmers over the transition period are due to be published later this month. Farmers will be impatient for the further detail of exactly how much will be paid and for what under ELMS.
What the new Act has not done is to ensure that any future trade agreements include an obligation to meet existing UK plant and animal health and welfare standards and/or environmental standards. Instead, the Act requires the government to report to Parliament on the extent to which any future free trade agreement entered into with non-EU states and/or with countries which currently have a trade deal with the EU meet UK standards.
Nonetheless, Environment Secretary, George Eustice, has said that the new law, “Will transform the way we support farmers … The funds released as a result of the phasing out of the… Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) will be re-invested into a roll out of our future farming policy, which will be centred around support aimed at incentivising sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of new woodland and other ecosystem services to help tackle challenges like climate change.”
Whilst most would agree that the new Agriculture Act may be transformative and “landmark” in some respects, it is the detail of the secondary legislation that is likely to be of most significance to the farming world.
If you have any queries about the new Act and how it might affect you, or any other questions relating to agricultural law, please contact us.
Fenella Eddell is a solicitor in the property department at Barker Gotelee, Ipswich solicitors.