What is the future agricultural policy post Brexit?
The last DAERA Minister set out four key outcomes and the long-term vision for the NI agricultural industry. These were:
- increased productivity in international terms
- improved resilience to external shocks
- an agriculture industry that is environmentally sustainable
- an industry which operates within an integrated, efficient, sustainable, competitive and responsive supply chain.
Since then the Department has been meeting the industry through the Trade and Agriculture Committee (TAC) and the Environmental Stakeholders Group to develop a potential high-level framework on future agricultural policy. This was issued to a broad range of stakeholders to seek their views on productivity, resilience, environmental sustainability and supply chain functionality.
Nearly 1,300 people responded with their comments, and the individual responses have been shared with policy leads in Food and Farming Group for further analysis.
What is happening now?
Seven projects have been established to collate evidence, identify gaps and develop future policies on Agri-environment; future capital support; food; knowledge; science strategy; supply chains; and transition & resilience.
Final decisions on future agricultural policy will be for Ministers to take.
What will happen if there is no Assembly?
There is a UK Agriculture Bill going through Westminster.
DAERA has taken a limited number of NI-specific provisions in that Bill. Our primary objective is to ensure that the status quo for agricultural support in NI can be maintained until such time as local Ministers are in place to take decisions on future agricultural policy.
The Bill will allow the Department to continue to make direct payments to farmers. The Department will also be able to make changes in order to simplify payments.
(Other primary legislation includes a Fisheries Bill that will provide the UK Government with powers to set annual total allowable catches for UK waters, and an Environment Bill that sets out how the UK Government will maintain environmental standards and ensure compliance with environmental law when the UK leaves the EU).
In addition, DAERA is working in partnership with the Departmental Solicitors Office (DSO), The Executive Office (TEO) and Whitehall Departments (Defra, BEIS and DfT) to ensure that all necessary changes are made to address operability issues and deficiencies in secondary legislation arising as a consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. This work covers 5 key policy areas:
- food and farming
- plant health (forestry)
- veterinary services and animal health
What are England, Wales and Scotland doing?
England, Scotland and Wales have each carried out consultations about future agricultural policies and support for rural managers.
The UK Government has set out its proposals for the future of Direct Payments in England in a document called, ‘Health and Harmony’. It proposes phasing out Direct Payments. Instead, funding for agriculture will be linked to delivering specific outcomes under the principle of “public money for public goods”.
“Public goods” are those things that are good for the public generally, and provide a shared benefit. Water quality is an important environmental example of a public good and others include air quality, open space, biodiversity, flood alleviation and a stable climate.
The Scottish Government issued a consultation document last year, entitled ‘Stability and Simplicity’, in which they sought views on proposals for a five year transition period for farming and rural support, should Scotland leave the EU. The proposals aimed to provide stability, certainty and simplicity for farmers, crofters and land users. The Scottish Government anticipated needing a significant programme of work to take forward the issues raised in the consultation.
The Welsh Government consultation, entitled ‘Brexit and our land: Securing the future of Welsh Farming’, sets out proposals for a planned, multi-year transition. It sought views on a new land management programme consisting of an economic resilience scheme; and a public goods scheme and how the specific schemes that will deliver the support should be designed. The responses to this consultation are currently being reviewed by the Welsh Government.
Does Northern Ireland have to do the same as England, Scotland and Wales?
No, agriculture is a devolved matter. The policy choices for future agricultural support in Northern Ireland are for a future Northern Ireland agriculture Minister to make. In the meantime, the intent of the Department is to ensure that it has the necessary legislative basis to maintain the status quo with regard to the agricultural support framework.