The Agriculture Act 2020 – The Introduction of a New Agricultural System for The Next Generation of Farmers – Agricultural Law Blog

Agricultural law




Josie Francis | Paralegal

The Agriculture Act 2020, became law on 11 November and will transform the future of farming. Following on from Brexit, change was necessary to provide farmers and land managers, previously under the thumb of an overly procedural EU policy, with a new system that properly rewards them for the good work they do. In this Agricultural Law blog I explain the practicalities of this change.

The new 2020 Act brings into existence the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs), which centres on the principle of ‘public money for public goods’. Under this new system, farmers will be able to receive payments for producing public goods such as: better air and water quality; thriving plants and wildlife; better soil health; and protection from environmental hazards including measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change. This new system is set to play a pivotal role in achieving the goals of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and its commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. ELMs is envisaged to see a boost in the agricultural industry and create greater investment in new technology, maximisation of land potential and an increase in competition, productivity and innovation. 

At the beginning of 2021, the clock on a 7-year transitional period will begin, which will phase out the current financial reward system in place for farmers; the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). Under BPS, payment is mainly based on the total amount of land farmed meaning there is little, if any, reward for smaller landowners who provide public benefits. Once the transitional period has ended in 2027, BPS will no longer operate, and direct payments under this scheme will no longer be possible. The transitional period is an important time for farmers and land managers to adapt and determine which aspects of the new system play to their strengths as well as ensuring long term business viability for the future. ELMs is not a replacement of BPS.

A major Brexit concern of the food and farming sector was Britain’s food security and high-level food standards being compromised in future trade deals. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) led an extensive campaign for the protection of these standards and for regular reporting on the condition of food security. Upholding the NFU’s arguments, the new 2020 Act requires the government to produce a report evaluating the impact of any future trade deal on animal welfare and farming before approved. The newly established Trade and Agriculture Commission, an independent advisory board consisting of experts in the industry, will advise the government on such matters. 

In addition, the government will also be required to report on food security every three years; the first report will be published by the end of 2021 and will include an evaluation of how COVID-19 has affected the UK’s food supply. 

Later in the month, further details will be announced, including how the government intends to assist farmers and land managers over the coming transitional period.

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