Farmers need urgent clarity on how they can continue making a living under new payment rules that come into effect when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December, according to agricultural lawyer, Joel Woolf.
From 1 January 2021, English farmers will no longer receive the BPS, an EU derived subsidy they receive according to the amount of land they occupy. Instead, the government will commit the same amount of funding as if England had stayed in the EU but will gradually withdraw direct payments to farmers over a seven-year period and channel that money into other schemes designed to boost productivity and protect the environment. Different schemes will operate in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland providing the prospect for significant internal competition between regions.
The change will see farmers facing a potential income gap as direct payments are reduced over the next four years while the new Environmental Land Management Scheme will not be fully operational until after 2024. With only one month to go before the end of the transition period with the EU, farmers are facing a lack of detail on the level of support available from 1 January 2021 onwards.
Joel Woolf, a partner in the agricultural team at leading Midlands law firm Wright Hassall, believes farmers are in danger of being left high and dry by the government’s lack of organisation and will continue to need financial support while they adapt to farming in a world where the government’s agricultural focus has shifted to the environment.
He said: “The government is sending out mixed messages - they want farmers to be more productive while protecting and enhancing the environment but have not, so far, released enough detail on how farmers can achieve both while making a living.
“The vast majority of farmers want to farm to high standards, and in tune with the environment, but doing that leads to higher production costs - and the UK consumer is not used to paying a realistic price for a quality product. Farmers' incomes are already below the cost of production - hence the need for government support to bridge the gap.
“Agri-tech may be the answer in the long run but, at the moment, the kit is very expensive. Many farmers are already deploying precision farming techniques using GPS and controlled traffic farming as an ex-ample, but it will take time to be more widely used.
“Farmers have only ever followed government policy. If certain historic outcomes are now seen as undesirable, that is the fault of the policy at the time, not that of farmers.”