The NFU has published a framework for a new UK Domestic Agriculture Policy, which it envisages being phased in over a number of years and attracting current levels of taxpayer support, although invested in different ways.
The 20 page Delivering a bold and ambitious future for farming document “sets out the exciting opportunities that a bespoke agricultural policy could provide as the UK enters a new relationship with the EU”. The Union is to unveil the initiative to members at a series of NFU/AHDB meetings around the country.
The NFU vision is that: “Competitive, sustainable and profitable UK farm businesses are central to a dynamic food supply chain. British farmers should deliver an increasing proportion of the nation’s requirement for high quality, safe, affordable food, as well as developing new export markets. Alongside this, our farmers must be able to continue with sound environmental stewardship of the 70% of the UK land area they manage, and maintain their reputation for the highest standards of animal health and welfare.”
The policy is based on addressing three themes – market volatility, productivity and the environment. It should be flexible enough to divert resources where most needed, depending on how the UK adapts to life outside the EU. For example, if post-Brexit trade, regulation and labour availability enable agriculture to become more productive, competitive and progressive, there would be less need for direct income support to mitigate market price volatility. The resources could be switched to technical knowledge transfer and the environment. But, were a post-Brexit trade policy to disadvantage UK farmers through greater imports of lower cost and welfare food products, the funds could be used to directly support UK producers.
While welcoming the government commitment to match current CAP expenditure in the UK – for the life of this Parliament – the Union calls for this level of support to be maintained in the longer term across its three policy cornerstones.
Risk management will become more important – the NFU says there is a strong case for market-based measures such as revenue or margin insurance; counter cyclical payments and/or deferred tax savings schemes to help farmers plan and invest for the future. The administration of such schemes must be simple and inexpensive and without complicating conditions, to ensure as much of the support as possible benefits the farmer.
A new “fit for purpose” regulatory system would see science and evidence at the heart of policy and decision making, “ensuring that regulation seeks to deliver productivity gains rather than stifle them”.
All farmers should be encouraged to participate in a basic farmed environment scheme to encourage landscape, biodiversity and wider benefits, with a second tier available for those wishing to achieve “more ambitious environmental outcomes”.
Phased transition to the new policy will be vital, advises the Union. While there may be political demands for significant change from March 2019, it calls for plenty of time, noting the government record of implementing previous CAP reform decisions in a rush with adverse results for the industry. The Union envisages the current CAP measures carrying on for at least two years post-Brexit, with a comprehensive impact assessment process of the first two years outside the EU in forming the preparation and implementation of a new domestic agricultural policy from 2023 (or later depending on conditions at the time).
Funding this development work should not come from the direct support budget – the NFU calls for private public partnerships involving research institutes, farm suppliers and processors and the major retailers to underpin this work – perhaps through pilot studies using existing closed chain supplier groups.
“For decades, UK farming has been subject to policies set at a pan-European level, implementing successive CAP reforms driven from the European stage”, says NFU president Meurig Raymond. “Once we leave the EU, we will have the opportunity to develop a new deal for British farmers and citizens – one in which farm businesses are provided with the incentives, rewards and means to become more profitable and resilient and to better meet the expectations and needs of society at large.
“We believe that in the future farmers should be able to draw down bespoke assistance from within our three cornerstones of productivity, environment and volatility. Crucially, the outputs from these measures are not mutually exclusive; they all work together to enable farming to be competitive, profitable and progressive – a sustainable partner within a dynamic British food supply chain.
“That is why it is absolutely crucial that we adopt an integrated policy; one that provides farmers with the collective means to manage volatility, improve productivity and enhance the environment. The absence of focus on any of these cornerstones would necessarily undermine delivery across the other two.
The full report and other NFU Brexit papers are available via: https://www.nfuonline.com/assets/100873