I started working at the CLA in August 2017 with the instruction that the Agriculture Bill was due that Autumn and that we would be busy with it for the next 12 months. It feels slightly surreal that three-and-a-half-years later, on 11 November, the bill finally reached royal assent and became the Agriculture Act.
The Agricultural Act is the first piece of agricultural legislation for 60 years, and the CLA has worked tirelessly to make it one that works for farmers and landowners over the next generation. It works on a system of payment for public goods via the upcoming Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) rather than area-based payments. A lot of new thinking on this scheme was influenced by the CLA’s Land Management Contract, which outlined a potential payment for public goods scheme when it was launched in May 2018.
What have we achieved over the last three years to make the bill better for CLA members? Our priorities were to extend payment windows, widen the definition of public goods, protect trade standards and to safeguard against any unnecessary changes to the tenancy system. We achieved many of these with our own lobbying and working collaboratively with other stakeholders within our industry.
The original payment cycles were only set to be between one to three years, which would have been unworkable for farming businesses. We got the government to change this to a five-year payment window, providing more security in these contracts. Trade came down to the wire, with the government conceding only last week on beefing up the Agriculture Trade Commission. It now has statutory powers, which means that it can report to Parliament before any future trade deal has been signed about the impact this would have on animal welfare or environmental standards.
However, our work isn’t done now that the bill has passed into law. There will now be the transition period over the next seven years from the Basic Payment Scheme to the new system. The CLA will be lobbying Parliamentarians hard to make sure farming businesses weather this change and then thrive under ELMS. Maybe one celebratory drink first?