Last week I introduced a new Agriculture Bill in parliament which will be debated later this autumn. Leaving the EU means that we have the chance to design the first independent agriculture policy for almost half a century. The last time we introduced such a wide-ranging Bill was in 1947.
The current CAP accounts for almost 40 percent of the EU budget, and its influence is all pervasive. Some 80 percent of legislation affecting DEFRA comes directly from the EU and it is stifling. EU rules frequently make trying to do the simplest of things complicated and often impossible. The UK has argued for change over many years but the system has remained quite dysfunctional. Trying to design a one size fits all policy for twenty-eight different countries all with very different landscapes and agricultural structures has never made much sense.
For far too long, our farmers have been held back by the stifling rules and often perverse incentives of the CAP. The lion’s share of money has been allocated based on the size of individual land holdings, not the contribution farmers make to society. 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%.
The new Agriculture Bill which I introduced last week marks a decisive shift in policy. We can now begin to reward farmers properly at last for the work they do to enhance the environment around us. We can now better appreciate the value farmers bring as food producers. It will help grow more high-quality food in a more sustainable way – and it will ensure public money is spent more efficiently and effectively.
At the centre of the Government’s proposal is a new system that pays public money for public goods – those goods from which we all benefit but the market alone does not provide. The Bill will allow us to devote public money to enriching wildlife habitats, preventing flooding, improving the quality of air, soil and peat, raising standards of animal welfare and planting trees to help manage and mitigate the effects of climate change.
A new Environmental Land Management system will be developed over the next few months and years and will be rolled out from 2021. 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.
We are also introducing new powers to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain so that farmers can get a fairer share of the value of the food they produce. If farmers received a fairer share of the price their food sells for they wouldn't need subsidy. Finally, we are making provision to award Grant and investment to farms to help them reduce costs and improve their profitability.
Despite all the arguments about Brexit, working on future policy with the freedom to innovate and think things through from first principles has been incredibly liberating for a department like Defra which had had to shoulder so much of the burden of EU membership over decades.