British agriculture will be transformed utterly by bold new proposals
This is a good week to start a revolution. With Brexit now on the brink of deal or no deal, Britain could yet retreat behind a wall of tariffs and protectionism. But if a free-trade deal is done and borders stay open, the way is clear for British agriculture to be transformed utterly. Today a seven-year transition plan has been announced by the environment secretary, George Eustice. It switches the money, currently £2.4bn a year, pumped into farm support from merely subsidising an industry to safeguarding the countryside and supporting good food and animal welfare. As the plan goes out to consultation, it will face a hundred reservations, but freed from the EU’s longstanding, anti-conservation agricultural policy it is emphatically in the right direction.
Within a decade, taxpayers will stop paying farmers on the size of their farms, now roughly £233 per hectare and comprising a third of farm incomes. This has been a massive distortion in favour of rich landowners. By 2028 farms are expected, says Eustice, to be “sustainable businesses that do not need to rely on public subsidy”. But lest that leads to arable degradation and the erosion of nature, and further exacerbates the climate crisis, the present subsidy is to be redirected to what the plan rightly called “public goods”.