The Agriculture Bill published by Defra in September details the legislation which will change the farm subsidy system post-Brexit from payments based on acreage to payments based on managing land in ways that protect or improve the environment. There will be a seven-year transition period during which the new payment system will be phased in.
But it also includes provisions for making payments based on other activities which the government could deem of public benefit – the so-called ‘public goods’ – that could open the way to greater support for horticultural businesses. These include giving Defra the powers to support activities such as ‘mitigating or adapting to climate change’ and ‘protecting or improving plant health’.
There are also provisions for giving financial assistance to ‘start, or improve the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity’ including help to improve the efficiency with which a business uses resources, and make improvements in the quality of its products.
A section of the Bill sets out how the UK would support Producer Organisations – as they would no longer be eligible for the EU Fruit and Vegetable Aid Scheme – and how funding could be made available for growers to undertake co-operative R&D. Provisions are also made for regulation promoting fair dealing in the supply chain, including specifying certain contractual obligations for ‘first purchasers’ of agricultural and horticultural produce; and aspects of marketing, including product labelling.
MPs are due to have their first chance to debate the Bill at its second reading in Parliament on October 10.