The UK government is planning to overhaul its agricultural policies in the “biggest farming shakeup in 50 years” in a bid to create more sustainable farming practices, protect wildlife and nature and tackle climate change.
The £1.6bn subsidy that farmers receive every year for owning or renting land will be phased out by 2028, with the funds used instead to pay them to restore wild habitats, create new woodlands, boost soil quality and curb pesticide use.
What is Happening?
- Those farmers receiving annual payments of over £150 000 a year will face the steepest cuts, starting with 25% in 2021. Those receiving less than £30 000 annually will see a 5% cut.
- Farmers will also receive grants to improve productivity and animal welfare. The goal of the plan is for farmers to be producing healthy and profitable food sustainably and without subsidies by 2027. Finally, other measures in the plan include funding improvements in how farmers manage animal manure and a scheme where farmers wanting to leave the sector can cash out all the subsidies payments they are due up to 2028 in 2022 to help new farmers enter the sector.
- The new scheme will be trialled with 5 000 farmers before a full launch in 2024, however the level of payments for work such as natural flood defences and restoring peatlands and saltmarshes has not yet been set, nor has the likely cut in carbon emissions been quantified.
- According to the Guardian, farming occupies 70% of England, is the biggest driver of biodiversity loss and produces 9% of the UK’s emissions.
Environment minister, George Eustice, says, “Over the last century, much of our wildlife-rich habitat has been lost, and many species are in long-term decline. I know many farmers feel this loss keenly and are taking measures to reverse this decline. But we cannot deny that the intensification of agriculture since the 1960s has taken its toll. Our plans for future farming must [also] tackle climate change – one of the most urgent challenges facing the world.”
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Eustice adds that the new government plan is possible due to the UK leaving the EU, whose common agricultural policy is widely regarded as a “disaster for nature.”
- While the plan to overhaul agricultural policies in the UK was mostly welcomed, some farming and environmental groups urged for more detail to be included in the plan as there are uncertainties around food tariffs and trade deals.
The president of the National Farmers’ Union, Minette Batters, says, “Farming is changing and we look forward to working with ministers and officials to co-create the new schemes.” However, she added, “Expecting farmers to run viable, high-cost farm businesses, continue to produce food and increase their environmental delivery, while phasing out existing support and without a complete replacement scheme for almost three years is high risk and a very big ask.”
She adds, “I am worried. If you take livestock as an example, you’ve got a 60 to 80% shortfall in farm business income by 2024.”
Kate Norgrove of the WWF, says “Our farmers have the potential to be frontline heroes in the climate and nature emergency, and this roadmap starts us on the right path. It must see increased investment in nature as a way to tackle climate change.”