‘Agriculture Bill clears way for devastating impact on rural communities’ – FUW

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) says the newly passed Agriculture Act could open the door to devastating impacts on farming and rural communities if the UK government does not place food security and the well-being of farming families and rural communities at the centre of policy development.

The Act, which received Royal Assent yesterday (November 11), outlines how future support for English farmers will be delivered as the UK leaves the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

It also sets out legislation relating to a broad range of agricultural and rural issues of relevance to Wales and the UK – including granting temporary powers to Welsh ministers until a Welsh Agriculture Bill is brought forward.

FUW President Glyn Roberts said:

“We have welcomed the inclusion in the Act of a requirement for a report to be presented to parliament focusing on the impacts future trade deals could have on agriculture.

However, this is certainly not the red line preventing substandard food imports that farmers, environmentalists, animal rights campaigners and millions of members of the general public lobbied for.

Roberts said that the focus of the Act on “public payments for public goods” was a major concern for FUW cross-border members with land in England.

“We have long argued that the environment and the economic prosperity of family farms and rural communities should be placed on an equal footing under future policies.

“However, it appears that the economic prosperity of our farming and rural communities are at best an afterthought and at worst absent in terms of English policy development.”

Economic needs placed on ‘a wing and a prayer’

Roberts said that while similar concerns existed in Wales, he hoped there was growing recognition within the Welsh government of the need to place issues such as rural employment and the economic well-being of farming families and rural communities at the heart of policy development – alongside environmental priorities.

If this is not done, the economic needs of our communities will be placed on a wing and a prayer, and any damage caused by new policies designed to only deliver environmental benefits will be impossible to repair.

The UK government plans to phase out direct support for English farmers from 2021 to 2027, while from late 2024 they will have the opportunity to take part in a new Environmental Land Management scheme aimed at enhancing the environment and delivering ‘public goods’, such as clean air and conservation objectives.

“For all its faults, CAP must by law deliver economic and social outcomes as well as environmental benefits.

The Agriculture Act allows the Secretary of State to provide support in England for 10 areas relating primarily to the environment, and while agricultural productivity and regard for food production do appear in the legislation, it is nothing like as inclusive as the principles that underpin the CAP when it comes to protecting incomes and rural communities.

Roberts said that this omission cleared the way for dangerous one-dimensional policies drawn up with little or no regard for the economic and social well-being of rural communities.

“We naturally hope that no part of the UK abandons decades old principles aimed at supporting farming families and rural communities, but it must be recognised as a risk, and we continue to urge the UK and Welsh governments to place these at the centre of policy development,” he concluded.