The Agriculture Bill: New three-tiered system rewards farmers who enhance the environment

As farmers face pressure to manage their land through more sustainable farming practices, on Wednesday (25 February 2020) Defra announced new policies for the Agriculture Bill which aim to support farmers’ work towards environmental land management. The new system proposes to reward farmers for their work towards sustainable land management in order to produce “public goods.” New practices such as IoT devices and data automation allow the industry to move towards a greener future. The new policies added to the bill pave the way for farmers to adopt such innovations.

In the UK, 17.6 million hectares of land is used for agriculture. It’s up to farmers to manage this land, whether it’s used for arable or livestock. Under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) scheme, the largest subsidy payments go to the largest landowners, and as a result, land rent is inflated, with 37% of agricultural land rent out this affects a significant amount of farmers. The new Agriculture Bill aims to move away from policies in the CAP.

At the NFU Annual Conference on Wednesday (25 February 2020) the Environment Secretary George Eustice claimed that subsidy payments encourage farmers to “take no risks and simply remain in occupation of the land in order to collect the subsidy.”

Innovative technologies such as IoT devices and sensors allow farmers to monitor their assets, so they can mitigate risks and improve their management production. It’s thought that this technology could help drive the industry’s productivity by providing farmers with the insights they need.

George Eustice highlighted that the new Agricultural Bill is the second attempt to introduce it. He mentioned aspects of the industry that are valuable to the UK, and he said: “Soil health is critical both for our environment and for farm productivity, so that too is added as an objective this time round. And the often under-appreciated value of our rare and native breeds is recognised at last.”

The government designed the new Agriculture Bill for tomorrow’s farmers as well as today’s. With soil protection already raised as a focus for the new bill, Defra’s announcement this week (25 February 2020) on further policies highlights how environmental initiatives and increasing productivity should be a joint force. They proposed a three-tiered system:

-Tier 1 encourages farmers to adopt environmentally sustainable farming and forestry practices.

-Tier 2 focuses on foresters and land managers delivering environmental outcomes that are locally targeted.

-Tier 3 targets larger-scale projects and encourages them to transform the environment; an example of this would be restoring peatland.

This tiered system aims to allow any farm or land type to participate.

But how will this new scheme be distributed into today’s farming industry? It’s proposed that the transition will take seven years. In 2021 the industry will begin to see a reduction in BPS payments with the largest landowners taking the largest reduction. Eustice also suggested that the existing Countryside Stewardship scheme could be simplified even further, in order to provide farmers with a “stepping stone” towards the future policy.

They are also considering developing an exit scheme for farmers looking to retire. The potential scheme provides such farmers with the option of taking several years BPS payment as a final settlement in return for their tenancy. There’s also the option for them to sell or rent their farm to a new entrant.

Also on 25 February farmers and land managers were asked to come forward with their views on the government’s green farming scheme outside of the EU. Farmers will have ten weeks to voice their thoughts and have a say towards the future of farming in the UK. The government aims to improve the environment while allowing farming businesses to thrive. There will be regional events held to discuss the government’s proposals with farmers, foresters and Defra officials in attendance.

When the previous Agricultural Bill was published, the NFU criticised it for not having enough of a focus on food. So now there’s a legal obligation on the government to produce a food assessment of the UK’s food security every five years. There will also be an obligation to consider the importance of food production and that it is being produced sustainably when any future scheme is designed.

New tech solutions such as GlasCore the data management dashboard allow farmers to manage their food production while incorporating sustainable land management. Glas Data is positioned to support farmers with agriculture’s transition towards greener farming. The move towards greener farming aims to support the government’s net-zero target to reduce the effects of climate change, which is expected to reduce weather extremes.

Recently farmers have been challenged by the UK’s extreme weather with flooding affecting their chances of growing crops this season. At the NFU Annual Conference, George Eustice commented on the repeated impacts of storms Ciara and Dennis on particular communities and how this “has highlighted the importance of making nature’s power part of the solution. We urgently need to tackle the challenge of flooding.” Tier two of the new scheme aims to deal with locally targeted environment management.

The new policies added to the Agriculture Bill highlight how future policies should be “designed to ensure increased productivity goes hand in hand with environmental initiatives” as said by George Eustice. Through the three-tiered system, Defra aims to reward farmers fairly, so that there is a place for any farmer or land manager to be part of the initiative. Tech solutions such as Glas Data are driven to help farmers produce their food more sustainably while being time-efficient; it is about using valuable data and making it easier for farmers to access.