Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

What is going to shape British agriculture over the next five years?

30/11/20What is going to shape British agriculture over the next five years?

Uncertainty over the future looms large regarding a potential trade deal with Europe, the availability of foreign labour and stricter regulation on the use of pesticides.

Since the 1970s, the Common Agricultural Policy has been the most significant influence on British farming. Now we have left the EU, the Government plans a new way of managing our countryside to boost productivity and reward environmental innovations and improvements. For the first time in 50 years, preservation of the land is being prioritised above intensively farming to maximise yields.

The Agriculture Bill proposes that farmers will receive public money for providing public goods and real benefits. These can include improved air and water quality, better animal welfare, allowing natural habitats for wildlife to thrive, improving access to the countryside, or implementing anti-flooding measures. The Bill also aims to maximise the land’s potential for producing high-quality food in a more sustainable way. It has returned to the House of Commons from the Lords for review and should reach Royal Assent before our transition from the EU in 2021.

If farmers do not provide ‘public goods’, they will have to make a living from sales of their produce. This means that smaller, family-owned businesses, in particular, will need to look at innovative ways of diversifying their enterprises further in order to boost their income.

Overuse of chemicals has had a massive impact on British biodiversity. More than 40% of species in Britain have been declining since the 1970s. Alongside the Agriculture Bill, the Government’s Environment Bill is looking to price chemical use according to the greenhouse gases emitted in their manufacture and the cost of repairing damage that they cause.

Both these Bills are progressing against a background of technological progress that will transform farming methods further. Robotics and drones will become increasingly important, while ‘vertical farming’ looks set to become more widespread. Land values may also change quite radically with some poorer land increasing in value owing to its environmental protection potential.

 

This article first appeared as ‘Ask The Expert’ in The Farmer, November 2020

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