September 11, 2018 / 11:12 PM / 7 days ago

Britain outlines post-Brexit farm policy in bill

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will introduce legislation on Wednesday for agricultural policy after it leaves the European Union that will link support for farmers to the provision of public benefits such as tackling climate change or preserving beautiful landscapes.

FILE PHOTO: Michael Gove the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs speaks during the National Farmers Union annual conference in Birmingham, Britain February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

The Agriculture Bill, primarily covering England, will provide the basis for policy in a sector which for decades has been controlled by the European Union.

“After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have the opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit,” Britain’s farming and environment minister Michael Gove said in a statement.

The bill includes a seven-year transition period to allow farmers time to adjust as direct support payments linked to the amount of land they farm to be phased out.

Under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, British farmers receive about 3 billion pounds a year in public funds.

“The bill allows us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations,” Gove said.

“Critically, we will also provide the smooth and gradual transition that farmers and land managers need to plan ahead.”

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said the bill “falls short of our aspirations,” adding British farmers would need to compete with farmers all over the world, nearly all of whom are supported financially to produce food.

POWERS TO PAUSE

Batters said the bill must provide powers to pause the seven-year transition if it is providing unmanageable for farmers and threatening domestic food supplies.

“With critical decisions still to be taken in the months and years ahead it would be foolhardy for the Government to embark on such a path without knowing (the) trading environment in which it will be set,” she said.

“A free and frictionless trade deal with our biggest trading partner, the EU, is absolutely critical to the farming industry,” she added.

Farmers will see a reduction in payments during the transition period with the biggest cuts for those receiving the most funds.

Direct payments will eventually be replaced by a new Environmental Land Management System which will be developed and trialed with farmers.

“Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards,” the minister said.

Under the devolution of agricultural policy in the United Kingdom, Scotland will not take powers from the bill.

However, the Welsh government will have powers under the bill to pursue its own reforms and provisions of the bill will extend to Northern Ireland until it can creates its own legislation.

Britain’s decision in 2016 to leave the EU becomes effective in March 2019.

Reporting by Nigel Hunt, Editing by Edmund Blair, William Maclean

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