Analysis: Brexit's impact on farming policy will take Britain back to the 1920s – but that's not necessarily a bad thing
Subsidies aren’t working but there are other options
Not much regarding Brexit is clear. But one thing we do know is that the UK’s decision to leave the EU has triggered proposals to implement the most significant changes to agricultural policy since it joined the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 1973.
The CAP was designed to provide a stable, sustainably produced supply of safe, affordable food. It also ensured a decent standard of living for farmers and agricultural workers, providing support through subsidies.
Now, the UK’s main political parties agree direct subsidy provision has to be reviewed and fundamentally changed. The current system favours large landowners over the small and is seen by many as encouraging inefficiency in farming practices. At present, support comes in the form of a two-pillar system, one providing direct support payments, and the other giving payments which reward the farmer for conducting environmental practices through participation in agri-environment schemes.
In its election manifesto, the Conservative Party agreed to maintain all subsidy support until 2022. After that, it will move to a one-pillar system, providing payment for public goods, woodland regeneration, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction, among other things. It would shift towards a free market economy where payments would no longer directly support farming businesses without public good provision.
Speaking to Farming Today, environment secretary Michael Gove, said: “There’s a huge opportunity to design a better system for supporting farmers, but first I need to listen to environmentalists about how we can use that money to better protect the environment … and also to farmers to learn how to make the regime work better.”
Labour Party policy meanwhile aims to reconfigure funds for farming to support smaller traders, local economies, community benefits and sustainable practices. Both major parties through their manifestos seem to agree in principle that change must – and will – come, albeit for differing reasons.
When combined with exit from the single market and the customs union, these policies will create an agricultural playing field pretty similar to that of 100 years ago.
1921 – 1931