farming analysis

Smaller fruit & veg suppliers will go out of business after Brexit unless the government commits to replicating EU support mechanisms for farmers, the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has warned.

While the government had committed to honour the agriculture sector’s CAP direct payments until 2022, it was yet to clarify whether the EU Fruit and Vegetables Regime would be replicated after Brexit, potentially leaving those in the horticulture sector without financial assistance.

Growers do not receive CAP payments, however, co-operatives can qualify for financial support under the Fruit and Veg Regime, the Efra Committee said in its report, The Future for Food, Farming and the Environment.

Efra criticised “unfinished” proposals in Defra’s plans for a future agricultural policy in its report, released today (6 June) in response to Defra’s recent Health and Harmony Consultation.

And despite its funding commitment until 2022, the Committee warned some of those funds would be redistributed, by capping the total payment received by some landowners and funding others to undertake pilots of environmental land management schemes - representing a blow to cereal farmers in particular, some 79% of whose income came from direct payments.

“A new funding model for agriculture is essential for the future prosperity of UK farming,” said Committee chair Neil Parish.

“As we leave the EU we must ensure we maintain our standards, and that those importing into the UK meet our high standards of production. The government should commit to funding the future agricultural policy using ring-fenced funds, consider new support mechanisms such as tax breaks and capital grant support, ensure that trade agreements demand imported products meet our standards, and avoid a regulatory race to the bottom.”

Method of production

The Committee also recommended the government improves country of origin labelling after Brexit and repeated its call for a mandatory method of production labelling, welcoming farming minister George Eustice’s assertion a trade agreement which did not allow beef to enter the UK if it did not meet UK standards was “quite possible to put together”.

It stressed its advice to Defra was that any policy should clearly state trade agreements must contain provision to prevent food entering the UK should it fail to meet equal environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.

“Defra’s consultation is ambitious and we welcome much of its intent,” Parish concluded.

However, he said there was a “notable lack of detail” in the government’s paper, with “too many central tenets of the policy remaining unclear”, and that the Committee would continue to seek more clarity on funding, delivery and timing.

“The government risks not achieving its ambition and risks damaging the sector,” he said. “It should respond to the farming sector’s concerns and provide clarity as soon as possible.”

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