Transformation in British agriculture - by Simon Jenkins for The Guardian

The Guardian columnist gives a surprising but nonetheless cautious welcome to latest proposals for reform of agriculture which puts profit and environmental welfare rather than subsidy at its heart.

"Today [Monday 30th November] a seven-year transition plan has been announced by the environment secretary, George Eustice. It switches the money, currently £2.4bn a year, pumped into farm support from merely subsidising an industry to safeguarding the countryside and supporting good food and animal welfare. As the plan goes out to consultation, it will face a hundred reservations, but freed from the EU’s longstanding, anti-conservation agricultural policy it is emphatically in the right direction.

"Within a decade, taxpayers will stop paying farmers on the size of their farms, now roughly £233 per hectare and comprising a third of farm incomes. This has been a massive distortion in favour of rich landowners. By 2028 farms are expected, says Eustice, to be “sustainable businesses that do not need to rely on public subsidy”. But lest that leads to arable degradation and the erosion of nature, and further exacerbates the climate crisis, the present subsidy is to be redirected to what the plan rightly called “public goods”.

"What these are and how to assess their value will not be easy. Money is to go on disease eradication, nature protection, air and water quality, tree planting, robotics and biodiversity. Subsidies will help farm startups and business diversification. How they will also be spent on “enhanced beauty and heritage” is a mystery, but a welcome one. The transition will be painful and doubtless bitterly argued, but by 2025 two-thirds of all subsidies are intended to have gone from acreage payments to public goods, and by 2028 all of them."

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