Post-Brexit farming support to be based on public goods

The government has proposed a new agricultural subsidy system that will see payments based on the provision of public goods rather than the amount of land farmed.

The current system of support for farmers and landowners shaped by the Common Agricultural Policy is “inefficient and inequitable”, the government said.

Under the new post-Brexit system, farmers would be paid for public goods such as improved soil health, increased biodiversity, climate change mitigation and “world-class animal welfare”.

“For more than forty years, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has decided how we farm our land, the food we grow and rear and the state of the natural environment,” noted the environment secretary Michael Gove in his foreword. “Over that period, the environment has deteriorated, productivity has been held back and public health has been compromised.”

Leaving the EU presented a once in a generation opportunity to “design a more rational, and sensitive agriculture policy which promotes environmental enhancement, supports profitable food production and contributes to a healthier society”, he added.

In his speech at the Oxford Farming Conference in January Gove admitted that helping people to make better choices in what they eat is fraught territory politically, but “I have a responsibility to ask if public money supporting food production is also contributing to improved public health.”

However, in the proposals set out this week he seems to have erred on the side of caution: there is no obvious mention of how the new support system will ensure the production of healthier food.

On trade, the government again reiterated that it is “fully committed to maintaining high standards of consumer, worker and environmental protection” in any future agreements. “We will adopt a trade approach which promotes industry innovation and lower prices for consumers. But we also need to adopt a trade approach that allows sufficient time for the industry to prepare.”

The new proposals are set out in a consultation open until May 8th 2018.

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