Good news and bad in the run up to the Agriculture Bill

On 13th June Michael Gove announced that the 2018 Agriculture Bill is likely to be presented in July, presumably with a view to clearing the decks in one area of Brexit as soon as possible and much sooner than expected. Shortly beforehand there had been a welcome announcement regarding the Small Farms Grant Scheme where the funds under offer were increased and changes made to help those who wished to invest but were unable to source the requisite equipment within the prescribed timescale.

Other recent changes outlined in the Health and Harmony consultation have been less welcome in some quarters. As part of a strategy to improve air quality, a further consultation has suggested that farmers will need to reduce ammonia emissions by:

  • covering slurry and digestate stores and manure heaps or using slurry bags
  • using low emissions techniques for spreading slurries and digestate on land (for example, by injection, trailing shoe or trailing hose)
  • incorporating manures into soils rapidly after spreading (at least within 12 hours)

There seems to be a general feeling that this will impose additional cost and bureaucracy at a time when the government is suggesting reductions in these burdens. As a side effect, discouraging the use of “natural” manures is likely to do little to achieve another objective: that of improving soil structures.

More recently, it has also been suggested that the reduction of flat rate subsidy payments in the transition period is likely to be implemented across all claims rather than by capping the largest amounts. Clearly there are two sides to this argument with some seeing it as a chance to protect the smaller units (on the basis that larger enterprises already enjoy economies of scale) whilst others would see it as fair to share the pain in a way which will not disadvantage the larger and more efficient units.

What is clear from all of these developments is that it will not be possible to please everyone. Environmentalists, animal rights organisations, food manufacturers, large and small farmers,( not to mention other parts of government with their eyes on the agricultural subsidy “pot”), will all have their own views on the shape of the industry in the future. Some will be disappointed. It is to be hoped that the businesses which make up the backbone of British agriculture will not be among them.

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