Agriculture Bill expected in ‘last six months of 2018’

An agriculture Bill detailing government plans for farming post-Brexit is expected to be published in the second half of this year, Defra secretary Michael Gove told MPs.

The Bill would be published after the government had considered all the responses to Defra’s Health and Harmony consultation on the future for farming, Mr Gove told a hearing of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on Wednesday (18 April).

See also: Gove warns against ‘vested interests’ in post-Brexit debate

The consultation includes plans to abolish direct payments and replace them with a new system of support largely based on rewarding farmers for undertaking environmental measures and delivering other “public goods”.

Mr Gove’s comments came as economist Michael Taylor, of the Policy Exchange think tank, said the removal of direct payments would reduce land prices and rents – although it was less likely to result in higher agricultural output.

“One would hope that land prices and rents for farmland might fall given that they are currently embedded in the direct payments process,” he said.

In terms of agricultural output, there might not be a huge effect, although some farms that were currently supported may no longer be viable without the direct payment. But this would depend on what alternative arrangements were put in place.

Angela Francis, chief economist for the Green Alliance think tank, said any new system of support should be “relevant for all farmers”. It should also encourage farming differently to encourage wildlife habitat biodiversity and better soil quality.

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