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Jeremy's Blog 29th October 2021: Government Policy

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 29th October 2021.

While the Government wrestles on a day-to-day basis with many areas of policy, it shows a sustained strategic direction for environmental and, within that, agricultural policy.

While buffeted by events, the realities of government and practical issues of implementation, the approach, pre-dating Boris Johnson’s premiership, can be summarised as:

  • the goal of environmental improvement, embracing climate change and biodiversity with air quality, water quality and allied objectives, emphasising improvement not slowing decline
  • agriculture is then seen as a business to find its place in the market, albeit still with significantly more support than given to many other sectors, from specific tax reliefs to permitted development rights as well as support through this transition
  • the money that has been seen as agricultural support is being moved so most of it will be used to assist environmental improvement on a “something for something” basis but some will be directed to farm business improvement and productivity.

That bare description of DEFRA’s developing policies, outlined since early 2018, also describes the proposals in Wales, the policy statements in Scotland and the direction indicated for Northern Ireland, each with their own features.

For England, the 25 Year Environment Plan is being given legal effect by the Environment Bill and then binding targets across topics from species abundance to air pollution to frame policy. Much of the Agriculture Act should be seen within that framework.

The sheer scale of what is required for net zero and biodiversity gain drives change which, perhaps overwhelming other concerns, is more likely to be accelerated than eased. The Climate Change Committee’s assessment of the Government’s newly published Net Zero Review observes:

“Few details have been set out for delivery mechanisms in the agriculture sector – a combined decarbonisation strategy for agriculture and land is needed urgently.”

Scotland sees it has still to identify more than half of agriculture’s emission cuts needed by 2032. More is to come on this large task.

With that, the eye of the farmer and advisers should be on the business itself, its objectives and how each business will evolve through these significant changes in policies, markets and technologies.

Environmental options, whether government schemes or privately financed, should be considered clear-sightedly for what they offer and what they demand. As those demands could be substantial, farmers should be very careful to retain their freedom to manage their land so they can meet net zero themselves, before selling carbon to others.

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