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First steps to a new future

Leaving the EU will mean that the Common Agricultural Policy no longer applies, but what should replace it has been the focus of much discussion.

The Command paper that Defra published earlier this week identifies a change in direction in agricultural farming and land support generally. This is a Government consultation so there are some proposals but many questions to be answered.

Environment as the cornerstone 

The paper recognises the environmental damage that has been caused by previous support measures and identifies methods to tackle some of these problems. Reducing and eventually getting rid of area based payments is identified as one of the most significant measures. Instead there is a clear indication that future payments will need to be much more focused on delivery   public money for public goods.

Environmental enhancement and protection are identified as key public goods of key importance, but other options for public support include better animal and plant health, animal welfare, improved public access, rural resilience and productivity. The level and role for government in supporting farmers and land managers in the future forms a key part of the questions raised 

The Command paper suggests: 'A new system will promote long term sustainable land management' (Photo: WTML / Richard Becker)
The Command paper suggests: 'A new system will promote long term sustainable land management' (Photo: WTML / Richard Becker)

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What role could trees play? 

We believe that a sustainable environment is the basis of our prosperity and essential to the health and wellbeing of society. The trees within this provide many of our essential requirements   clean air, water, soil, food, fuel and building materials. Trees offer huge benefits for wildlife and help to improve the biodiversity and habitat connectivity of the natural landscape. These cherished landscapes in turn contribute to our cultural heritage and sense of identity as places to exercise or unwind, or for recreation and tourism. 

Integrated into farming systems, trees protect our valuable natural resources by helping to manage water and air pollution, prevent soil erosion and boost soil sustainability through support of micro-organisms and addition of nutrients. They help with crop pollination, integrated pest management and product diversification. 

It is heartening to see that the Command paper recognises many of these benefits: “A new system will promote long term sustainable land management. We want farmers and foresters to integrate their plans for the production of environmental goods with plans for the production of food and timber. Improving the environment can also benefit the competitiveness of the sector, for example, through improving soils and increasing resource efficiency.” 

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What next? 

There is not a lot of detail for many of these proposals. The Government has already guaranteed to continue paying support at the existing level in 2019, and to maintain the current structure for support until 2022. There will a gradual transition to the new way of working allowing opportunities to pilot different approaches 

The consultation runs for ten weeks, closing on 8 May. We will be looking at it in more detail over the coming weeks. 

As the secretary of state says in his introduction to the paper: “The proposals in this paper set out a range of possible paths to a brighter future for farming. They are the beginning of a conversation, not a conclusion, and we want everyone who cares about the food we eat and the environment around us to contribute.”

For more information view the Government's The future for food, farming and the environment consultation documents.