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Jeremy's Blog 8th July 2022: Governments Face the Summer

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 7th July 2022

This is being written amid the political standoff in Downing Street as ministers resign without prospect of immediate replacement and constitutional crisis threatens, perhaps averted by the Prime Minister’s resignation. Significant parts of the government might now be barely functioning with issues for decision in a difficult world left fallow and Bill Committees grinding to a halt for want of ministers. With Michael Gove’s sacking, the Levelling Up Department with both its Bill and the housing tenancies White Paper has (at this moment) just one Commons minister left.

This is all at the point, with the summer recess looming, when governments typically make efforts to clear their desks issuing policy decisions and consultations, keeping recipients occupied ahead of autumn. In England, SFI 2022 is just launched, the first of DEFRA’s new schemes to take it first steps, then to develop with more standards. With harvest imminent, farmers may pay it most attention when early December yields 40 per cent of the Basic Payment they had two years ago.

Scotland has issued a Land Reform consultation ahead of next year’s Bill. The political focus will be on the restraints placed on the management of and transactions in “large land holdings”, suggested to be based on those above 7,500 acres. Other measures would see:

  • the conditionality on land-based subsidies, foreshadowed in the climate change based policy statements, now to include land registration and may be more to come
  • a new Land Use Tenancy with little details so far but for new lettings and accommodating a wider range of rural land uses, environmental and diversified as well as agricultural.
  • consideration of related tax issues as recommended by the Scottish Land Commission.

With the slippage in the timetable for the Welsh Agriculture Bill, Cardiff has published a first discussion model for the Sustainable Farming Scheme that is to replace Basic Payment in a transition from 2025. With the “something for something” theme of the preceding consultations, a “baseline” payment is to be available for those who meet its conditions and then more specific optional and collaborative offers.

After an initial review process for the applicant, these conditions include a focus on farm and environmental management and then the retention or creation of tree cover over 10 per cent of the land and semi-natural habitat on 10 per cent of the land. With the lowest UK payment rates per acre in Wales and the problem of “whole farm” assessment, those land use conditions could challenge many farms, not only dairy and arable but also those renting land, with substantial common rights or large protected sites. Those conditions might relax with co-design; equally, a rental market might emerge for such land. Either way, some might not see the baseline as attractive.

Northern Ireland has its own issues with Ministers but no Executive or Assembly, perhaps only able to issue the consultations to take policy forward.

The large issues still face us. On Monday, the UK Agricultural Partnership met in Dundee for ministers and stakeholders to review some of the public policy, market and technology. issues of food security. I urged the need for practicality framed by risks and reward; fruit and vegetables will not be grown just to meet policy aspiration. With markets fearing global recession, commodity prices are falling: November wheat is now at £260/t.

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