By setting high expectations for post-Brexit agricultural support, the government risks its reforms being seen as a failure by some (if not all) of farmers, environmentalists, taxpayers and consumers.
This report analyses the government’s bold plans to redirect its £2.4 billion agriculture budget away from payments for farming land towards money for delivering predominantly environmental improvements – a clear example of the government’s wish to do things differently after Brexit and improve on the much-criticised EU Common Agricultural Policy.
However, ministers have deferred difficult decisions like making clear what farmers will be expected to do and how much they will be paid in return, four big problems need tackling if the government is to make a success of its landmark agricultural support reforms.
The report says the government must:
Address trade-offs between competing objectives
Satisfying both farmers and environmentalists, while delivering better value for money for taxpayers and protecting the interests of consumers, was always going to be a difficult, if not impossible task. The government must clearly set out how it has prioritised between competing visions for reform, while resisting pressure to reduce its environmental ambitions in the face of opposition from some farmers.
Manage delivery risks
Defra made a mess of previous reforms to agricultural support, and there are already warning signs that delivery of the new regime may be at risk. The department needs a clear and realistic plan to ensure farmers take part in the new regime and different government bodies understand their roles.
Do more to ensure long-term value for money
Making sure that the new regime delivers value for money is key to its long-term success, otherwise the Treasury could look to cut its funding. The government needs to make more progress on the under-developed regulatory and enforcement regime.
Address the incoherence between agricultural support reforms and the government’s wider policy agenda.
The government is embarking on its radical reform of agricultural support without a clear view of how it wants one of England’s most valuable resources – its land – to be put to work. The government needs to do more to explain how its new agricultural regime sits alongside its wider policy agenda, including international trade, net zero, levelling up, housing and food security. This should include publishing a land use strategy.