UK’s post-Brexit farms: what to expect

The UK’s post-Brexit farms look set for big changes after ministers announced ‘the most fundamental shift’ in farming policy for over 50 years, encouraging more sustainable farming practices geared towards land and wildlife preservation.

The issues surrounding the EU subsidises and  farming policy are well documented, the roots of which can be traced back to post-WW2 Europe. After much of Europe’s food supply chains were cut off by German U-boats during the war, the UK started to subsidise farmers based on their farm’s output – the aim being a more productive farming nation. Quickly, however, farmers’ output soared way past demand, creating massive surpluses of food that had to be cheaply exported to the global south. Another unintended consequence of this was the staggeringly quick draining of wetlands, polluting of rivers, and the changing of many natural and crucial landscapes.  

The EU later changed the system of payments away from farmers’ output, and towards instead the size of their farms: the larger the farm, the bigger the tax-payer subsidy. Questionably this led to situations whereby the wealthiest land-owning farmers were the ones receiving the largest government subsidies.

In an attempt to right this, as well as take positive steps towards a more ecologically sound UK, the government is instead bringing in new rules that will reward farmers with subsidies for doing the following things:

  1. Protecting ‘heritage’ farm buildings and stone walls
  2. Expanding hedges
  3. Capturing carbon in soils and cutting pesticides
  4. Natural flood management including restoring river bends
  5. Landscape recovery, restoring peatland and planting new woods
  6. Reducing antibiotics
  7. Improving animal health and welfare

The change in payments will of course create a massive amount of work for some farmers, a fact the government is all too aware of, offering farmers who wish to ‘retire gracefully’ a lump sum. For some farmers, the loss of subsidies and investment required to qualify for the new grants could make their businesses unviable. The hope is that the move will encourage more younger and more technologically minded farmers to enter the business, now able to operate without the subsidies for larger farms presenting barriers to entry to those just staring out.

Regardless of your opinion on Brexit, the breaking down of bureaucracy can have its benefits. Recently the UK has become the first country in the first to start rolling out Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, maybe ahead of its EU counterparts because it no longer needs to go through the same bureaucratic processes as its continental neighbours – for better or for worse. 

Now we see our own government able to push through its own seemingly ecologically progressive legislation that may never have seen the light of day in a pre-Brexit world. It is certainly encouraging to see actionable steps being taken towards a more ecologically aware UK, let’s just hope they don’t adversely affect our farming clients and food supply clients.

The EU’s farm policy has been no stranger to controversy. Under this system, farmers have been collecting taxpayers’ money according to the amount of land they own.

The government promised that after Brexit, farmers would only be rewarded if they tend the land in a way that’s good for society.

By Rebecca Garland on 14/12/2020