Bill of Change, what’s to come for UK farmers

17th February 2020

For the first time in my life, the UK is not a member of the European Union. As a result, on 15th January 2020 the Government published the second iteration of the Agricultural Bill. In summary the Agricultural Bill sets out a framework of new Agricultural Policies and transition measures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Bill is a crucial cornerstone of the Governments’ future farming and land management policy.

Practically, what does this mean for farmers and land owners?

The Bill clearly sets out that direct subsidy payments (BPS) will be phased out between 2021 to 2027. This means that the current application window to the Basic Payment Scheme will be the last under the current subsidy scheme as we know it. In 2021 reductions in payments will begin. Although there is nothing specifically set out in The Bill, a DEFRA policy statement released in September 2019 clearly sets out the payment bandings and percentage reductions, these operating in a similar way to Income Tax with the reductions only applying to the claim amount within that band. It is likely that further reduction percentages will increase over the transition period until the final payments are made in 2027 scheme year.

Unfortunately, as we know many farming businesses, since the early 90’s, have based their business models on the receipt of IACS, SPS and more recently BPS. To put this into some sort of perspective, according to the FARM BUSINESS SERVICE DATA 2018-2019 the average English cereal farmer relies on BPS income for 58% of their Profit. Within the same survey a less favoured area, grazing livestock farmer relies on 186% of its profit from BPS income, this is a startling figure and would mean the average LFA livestock farmer would be making a significant loss when the BPS payment is phased out in 2027.

The Bill also sets out that it could be possible to roll up a number of future BPS payments and these could be taken as a lump sum. It is clear that the Governments’ intention with this is to assist farmers to either retire, diversify, improve efficiencies or to make it easier for new entrants into the industry.

De-linking is a significant change, payments will be continued to be made to current recipients of BPS, however in the future it is understood that these recipients would no longer have to be actively farming. As I understand it this, coupled with the ability to “roll up” BPS payments, is to accelerate change within the industry and to help free up land and farms that could help existing farmers or new entrants into the industry.

What is the focus of the Bill?

It is understood that there will be new financial assistance powers which will enable payments to be made to farmers for a range of public goods. These payments will be made for such items as providing habitats for wildlife, reducing flood risk, preventing climate change, improving public access and protecting iconic features. In England the Government is in the process of developing the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), this will be part of the delivery mechanism, working towards the provision of public goods. This scheme is being piloted in a number of areas at the moment and is hoped to be rolled out in 2024, half way through the Agricultural Transition period. If farmers were thinking that this was going to replace the direct subsidy scheme I would suggest that this is not going to be the case at all. The ELMS scheme will be very targeted in what it delivers and I’m assuming will be no-where near the level of financial rewards that current CSS/HLS/BPS schemes deliver to regional farming businesses.

In short the profitability of farming businesses are going to be reduced over the next 7 years. It is important for farmers to understand the impact of what is on the horizon, we have time ahead of us to improve the performance of farming businesses and decrease their reliance on subsidy and in preparation for this we are holding a series of regional talks over the coming months to discuss the Agricultural Bill in more detail and its potential effects on family farming succession.

We are hosting a series of regional seminars which will include discussion on the Agricultural Bill which will run between 24th February and 4th March, for more details visit www.georgefwhite.co.uk/planning-for-change or call your regional office.

Simon Britton, Partner – Head of Farm at George F. White 07866 721146 / simonbritton@georgefwhite.co.uk

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