‘Landmark’ Agriculture Act 2020 – 3 Key Issues

The ‘landmark’ Agriculture Act 2020 was passed into law on 11 November 2020. 3 key issues are reviewed below.

1.  Payments & Public Goods

The main change is the Act marks the departure from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) under the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to payments of public money for measurable ‘public goods’. Provision of these ‘public goods’ under the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme will result in payments to farmers and land managers. ‘Public goods’ include air and water quality, soil health, wildlife conservation, measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change. The aim is to give farmers and land managers an incentive to work towards the UK’s environmental goals, for example its commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, via more sustainable farming processes.

There will be an agricultural transitional period within which Direct Payments are to be phased out, this will begin with the 2021 Basic Payment Scheme year and run until the end of 2027.  Therefore a 7 year transition.  Farmers and land managers will also be able to apply for alternative support during this transitional period, productivity grants will be on offer next year and Countryside Stewardship schemes will remain open to new applications in the first few years of the transition period. From late 2024, there will be the opportunity to participate in the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

It is stated by Defra that further details on plans to support farmers and land managers over the transition period are due to be published later in November. 

2.  Food Production & Security

The issues of food production and security were raised as soon as the Bill was first debated. Food production after all lies at the heart of agriculture and food security has been diminishing year on year for the UK.  The legislation now enacted requires the Government to report on UK food security to Parliament every three years. the first report will be published at the end of next year 2021, this will include analysis of the impacts on food supply of the coronaries pandemic and global food availability, food safety and consumer confidence amongst other things.

3.  Food Standards & Trade Deals

Another critical matter fore the UK agriculture industry was food standards and any future trade deals with third countries. In answer to concerns about UK farming standards potentially being undermined in future trade deals the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) has been strengthened. The concern focused on food imports from countries where production has lower animal welfare, public health and environmental standards than those in the UK and therefore competing unfairly with British farmers. The purpose of this was to enable the TAC to provide ongoing and statutory scrutiny of future trade deals. This is not the blanket restriction on food imports produced to standards that would be illegal within the UK as this was voted down by MPs. However, as reported by the NFU, the commission, made up of independent food, farming and environmental experts from across the UK, will advise the government on the impact of any future trade deals in a report that will be laid before parliament before any trade deal is ratified. These report will focus on the impact on animal welfare and UK agriculture. Politicians will have 21 days to scrutinise, debate and vote on the findings before any deals are approved by parliament. The commission's findings will be made public and this route offers some solutions to what is likely to be a very complex negotiating process for the UK government.   

The Agriculture Act references the need for the Secretary of State to provide a report before Parliament. Details of the TAC their members and remit are available here.  

Other matters the Agriculture Act authorises expenditure in relation to and includes are: the acquisition and use of information connected with food supply chains; the imposition of obligations on business purchasers of agricultural products, marketing standards, organic products and the classification of carcasses; the recognition of associations of agricultural producers which may benefit from certain exemptions from competition law; fertilisers; the identification and traceability of animals; red meat levy in Great Britain; agricultural tenancies; to confer power to make regulations about securing compliance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture; and for connected purposes. 

If there are any queries on this or any other associated matter please contact our food and agri team; Michael Aubrey is contactable on Michael.Aubrey@mills-reeve.com or Nichola Ross on Nichola.Ross@mills-reeve.com or Jessica Burt on Jessica.Burt@mills-reeve.com.

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