Many will understandably be fed up to their back teeth with talk of Brexit but when it comes to the “B-word” arguably no industry will be more widely impacted than agriculture. Fear of change, the unknown and what the future might bring has served as a handbrake on the industry over the last 18 months or so, and to that extent recent announcements have been much awaited.
Politically Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for DEFRA is a bit like marmite, and I am not a marmite lover, however, I appreciate that Mr Gove is a big hitter and perhaps just what DEFRA needs at this time. Speaking at the recent Oxford Farming Conference Mr Gove, has for the first time provided some clarity around the future of farm support and his assurance that there will be a transitional period is most welcome. Following on from this, the Government is intending on publishing an Agriculture Command Paper in the spring followed by an Agricultural Bill hopefully before Parliament’s summer recess. Fingers crossed, that soon we will begin to better understand what Brexit will mean for British Farming.
Recently I was fortunate to meet George Eustice MP, Farming Minister with a group of agricultural professionals and we were given the opportunity to ask him first-hand what we should be expecting.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear what he had to say. As an experienced minister having been in his current role for a number of years he has a great understanding of his remit and I generally believe that he has the best interests of British farming at heart. I hope he is given the time in his role to put in place the plans that he is developing.
I had read Mr Gove’s “Farming for the next generation” speech with interest but my meeting with Mr Eustice further aided my understanding and provided some insightful thinking and further assurances. So much so that I left the meeting with a more upbeat outlook, feeling that perhaps the next few years will indeed present agriculture with that unique opportunity to face the future and its challenges head on.
It would seem as if the government is keen to ensure that farmers are equipped with the tools needed to adapt to the future. The “five year period” after receipt of the Basic Payment Scheme in 2019 and assurances when Countryside Stewardship agreements are entered into, should allow farmers to adjust to a new regime that would seem to give everyone a bit more breathing space to understand the rules and plan their farming future.
On first reading this would suggest that, subject to capping, an acreage based payment similar to that made under the Basic Payment Scheme would continue until 2024, and after that any public money will only be used to pay for public goods.
What the public good actually means we shall see, Mr Gove talked of environmental enhancement and stewardship of our valuable biodiversity, wildlife, forests, soils, air and water and I think that most farmers who I speak to are keen custodians of the countryside and for the most part understand the role that they have to play.
However, added to this list are other public goods such as technology and skills, infrastructure and rural resilience and the hope that by making investments here there will be new opportunities to boost productivity and innovation and to create new opportunities.
Clearly the forthcoming Command Paper which will be subject to consultation, will play an important part. It will more formally set out the proposed plans for farm support and allow the industry to make formal comment. Every farmer should read it carefully and consider how this might impact them and their business.
When talking to my client’s one key point that I continue to raise is that it will be up to each farmer and their advisers to understand the “new rules” in such a way that they can consider their own positon and ensure that where practicable they can plan to react to and benefit from the changes.
Clearly, even if the central funding remains the same in aggregate terms there will undoubtedly be winners and losers, but hopefully with adequate time to prepare there is hope that this can be sensibly managed and to that extent we at PKF Francis Clark will be keeping a close watching brief and are happy to help.
Then all we will have to worry about is what our new trading relationship with the EU and the rest of the world might look like!