Exclusive: Eustice on government’s farming policy ambitions

After months of political deadlock around Brexit, the updated Agriculture Bill will return to parliament this month.

The government hopes the bill will be passed by the spring, allowing the country outside of the EU to develop its own agricultural policy for the first time in decades.

Writing exclusively for Farmers Weekly, farm minister George Eustice acknowledges that change is on the way, but we can look forward to a better future for farming.

See also: Agriculture Bill: What’s new and what’s Eustice promising?

Defra farm minister George Eustice explain’s the government’s vision for farming

Last month’s general election result has finally brought clarity and direction, following three very difficult years with a hung parliament where no one could get anything done. 

The government now has a very clear mandate. The new Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the prime minister last October will be implemented, and quickly.

We will leave the EU at the end of this month without fail. There will be an orderly Brexit with an implementation period running until the end of this year. 

There will be no extension to that implementation period. Under our future partnership from January 2021, we will not be part of the customs union, nor will we be part of the single market, but we will seek a free-trade agreement.

We will not accept regulatory alignment, nor will we be bound by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), but we will seek to establish agreements and understandings based on equivalence. Things will change. We will become a genuinely self-governing country again.

We also now have the freedom to press ahead with our plans to develop a new agriculture policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century and delivers for British farmers and the environment.

The Agriculture Bill has returned this week for the second time. As before, we seek to replace the bureaucratic shambles that is the Common Agricultural Policy with something that has coherence.

I grew up on a farm and spent a decade working in the industry. Domestic food production is crucial and plays a vital role in contributing to our nation’s food security

Rather than arbitrary area-based payments, where land ownership and tenure is subsidised, we will instead direct future funding to support activities and interventions that deliver for our environment and enhance animal welfare.

We want a package of incentives to support sustainable farming practices and the bill creates the powers to do this.

We recognise that Basic Payment Scheme payments currently make up a significant proportion of net farm income. However, rather than maintain a system that just masks poor profitability, the ambition behind our Agriculture Bill is to tackle the causes of that poor profitability. 

So, the bill creates the power to make grants available to deliver a prosperous future for farming by helping farmers invest in new technology and equipment to reduce costs. 

There is a section in the bill to improve transparency and fairness in the supply chain, so that farmers stop being price takers and start getting a fairer share of the cake.

Also, we want to make it easier for farmers to retire with dignity and simultaneously help new entrants get access to land.

I grew up on a farm and spent a decade working in the industry. Domestic food production is crucial and plays a vital role in contributing to our nation’s food security.

The government takes this very seriously, so the revised bill creates a duty to review food security every five years and a duty to consider the production of food when devising policy. 

I also know that farming is a risky business and there will always be circumstances where the government must act and intervene in a crisis to support farmers or stabilise markets. The bill makes provision for that too. 

Finally, I know that change must be delivered in an orderly and progressive way. It won’t happen overnight. Our bill envisages a seven-year transition period from the old legacy system to the future policy, starting next year.

Our ambition is to use our new-found freedom to embark on a journey to a better future for farming. We want to innovate and develop the policies of the future.

A decade from now, I want the rest of the world to be coming to the UK to see how it is done, and I know we have some of the best farmers in the world who can do just that.

Farm minister George Eustice was writing exclusively for Farmers Weekly about the forthcoming Agriculture Bill and the UK’s future food and agriculture policy.