'Agriculture Bill lacks trade detail'

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages
© GettyImages
Lack of details on trade and failure to acknowledge food as a ‘public good’ within the UK government’s Agriculture Bill are disappointing, said the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) a trade group that counts the UK feed sector among its member industries.

The bill was introduced​ in the House of Commons yesterday [September 12].  It outlines how the farming sector will move away from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the years after the UK leaves in 2019.  A new system would replace EU payments, and there would be considerable focus on the environment.

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the Bill would deliver a "brighter future for farming"​ and a "smooth and gradual transition".

MPs will next consider the Bill at its Second Reading. The date for second reading has not yet been announced.

AIC Chief Executive, Robert Sheasby, said the lack of detail on how trade will operate post EU-exit was concerning.

“Trade is vital. Whether it is importing farm inputs such as livestock feed and crop protection products, or exporting produce, trade is vital to the whole farm and food supply chains. Today’s news on the shortfall of vets to oversee exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit reflects the need for concern on the UK’s trading ability.”

There are welcome features. In particular, the much-needed commitment to innovation and R&D, said the AIC. 

AIC members, which include the machinery, animal health, crop protection, fertilizer, seed breeding and grain and feed trading sectors, segments and account for around £8bn (US$10.56bn) turnover at farmgate, have a very strong commitment to R&D, spending up to £50m a year on R&D, second only to the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), said a spokesperson.

Regarding trade, both AIC in its own right and through its membership of the Agri-Brexit Coalition has been engaged in lobbying, to ensure those in government who are devising trade legislation in conjunction with industry take practicalities into account. 

“This work will continue,”​ he said.

Brexit bolt 

A workshop held in July in London and run by the Agri-Brexit Coalition heard UK agribusiness companies are already moving operations out of Britain​ and others are taking 'irreversible decisions' on site location and investment.

 “This event highlighted that the agri-supply sector faces the same challenges as those of car manufacturers and other industries that have hit the headlines in recent weeks,”​ David Caffall, coordinator of the Agri-Brexit Coalition, told us back then.

“There are undoubtedly opportunities, which agribusiness is keen to grasp with innovative products, technology and services. However, uncertainty is hampering investment and alternative plans for locating outside the UK are being made,” ​he added.

Further reaction to publication of UK Agriculture Bill 

The UK's National Pig Association (NPA) welcomed the publication of the Bill.  

NPA, chief executive, Zoe Davies said: “The Bill, based around the principle of public money for public goods, clearly contains opportunities for the pig sector. This includes, potentially, support for our continuing drive to improve health and welfare on pig farms and for investment in buildings, equipment and technology to help boost productivity and deliver better environmental outcomes, alongside these high health and welfare standards. Funding to encourage new entrants and for new research could also benefit the pig sector.

“But the details are all still to be finalised and, as a previously unsupported sector, we will work with Defra to ensure any new initiatives deliver meaningful benefits for the pig industry. It is critical, for example, that new health and welfare initiatives focus on delivering positive outcomes, rather than trying to drive system change, and are delivered in the context the market place pig farmers operate within.” 

President of the UK's National Farmers' Union (NFU), Minette Batters, said that farmers across the UK will be very concerned that the Bill provides only a short term commitment to improve their competitiveness. "We cannot future-proof farming businesses based on the ‘time-limited’ initiatives outlined in this announcement."

She said that a free and frictionless trade deal with the UK's biggest trading partner, the EU, is absolutely critical to the farming industry.

Defra statement on legislation 

According to statement from the UK Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), the UK Agriculture Bill "sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for 'public goods', such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which is ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. The top 10% of recipients currently receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%.

"In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year. The government will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards, laying the foundations for a Green Brexit.
The Bill will also be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in (R&D)."

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