Cause of excitement: Agricultural Act 2018

This may not be a cause of high excitement amongst the general populous, but the thought of the Agricultural Act 2018 does stir the juices of us agricultural lawyers. The reason is simple: the last such event was the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. At that point in time, I had just started reading Law and had little idea in which sector I would specialise. This is the first occasion when there will be an Act of Parliament concerning my chosen professional field.

Perhaps us lawyers should not be the only ones looking forward to it even if with trepidation, as it is widely expected to lay out the future for UK agriculture post Brexit. As such, it is potentially the most significant UK Act of Parliament for the rural economy since 1947!

As part of the run up to the Act, George Eustice, the Defra Minister for Farming, visited the North East in June and undertook a lively question & answer session with farmers, landowners and other rural stakeholders. He spoke confidently and was clearly in full command of his brief, which he should be by now.

His vision of a post-Brexit farming future was one where farmers were “generously rewarded” for providing public goods, whilst also achieving fair returns from the market for producing high quality food products. To avoid any nasty shocks there would be a transition period to the new system, but he could not say how long it would be. He foresaw multi-annual agreements with a move away from endless, and pointless, measurements of features and field sizes. Such a change would provide significant administrative savings for all parties.

He was confident that trade deals could be secured with the EU and elsewhere in the world, but without sacrificing our high standards and being swamped by cheap imports, nor being fettered by EU regulations. He wanted to move away from multiple agencies enforcing a huge rule book and towards a risk based system utilising local expertise and judgement.

He appreciated the role of EU socio-economic funding for the rural economy, such as LEADER and RDPE grants. He said that their replacements could be funded via the Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace all EU structural funding, or perhaps via part of the agricultural budget. What ever the outcome of the final decision, the administration of such funds would be much simpler without the EU involvement.

All in all, he painted a very rosy picture, but I did wonder if this vision was shared by the EU negotiators, the World Trade Organisation and indeed the UK Treasury. Perhaps we will have a better insight once the Agricultural Act 2018 sees the light of day.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

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