FARMING groups have reacted to the new Agriculture Bill, which was introduced into Parliament on Wednesday.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove set out the legislation to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations after nearly 50 years under EU rules.

In a statement, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "The introduction of the Agriculture Bill is an historic moment as we leave the EU and move towards a brighter future for farming.

"After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit.

"This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.

"Critically, we will also provide the smooth and gradual transition that farmers and land managers need to plan ahead."

Defra says the Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.

This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which is ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. The top ten per cent of recipients currently receive almost 50 per cent of total payments, while the bottom 20 per cent receive only two per cent.

In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year. The Government will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards, laying the foundations for a Green Brexit.

Farmers will be supported over a seven-year transition period as the UK leave's the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

NFU president Minette Batters said that the NFU, along with the whole food supply chain, has been absolutely clear about the essential ingredients for a progressive, profitable, and sustainable food and farming sector post-Brexit.

She said: "These include comprehensive measures to improve the environment and productivity and tackle volatility alongside free and frictionless trade and access to a competent and reliable workforce. The Bill, as described in the announcement falls short of our aspirations in these regards.

“It is vital that in the future British farmers can continue to meet the food needs of a growing population. A future agricultural policy that ignores food production will be damaging for farmers and the public alike. The public demand and deserve safe, high-quality, traceable affordable food, whatever their income. And moreover they want British farms to supply that food.

“Farmers across the UK will be very concerned that the Bill provides only a short term commitment to improve their competitiveness; we cannot future-proof farming businesses based on the ‘time-limited’ initiatives outlined in this announcement.

CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said that the development of a new post-Brexit UK agriculture policy was a seminal moment for the future of our countryside.

He said: “We fully support the Government’s ambition for a future where farming and food production go hand in hand with a healthy environment.

“The CLA has long promoted a contractual model for the delivery of public goods, as an alternative to direct payments, through our Land Management Contract. This should provide clear objectives and obligations for both the Government and the land manager. We are pleased the Government has recognised the full range of public benefits that farmers and land managers can deliver and that they will be rewarded for work such as reducing flood risk, enhancing soil health and air quality and improving access to the countryside.

He said that Government's reassurance during the transition period is crucial for businesses to enable them to start planning for the future, and that seven years should be sufficient for this.

He added: “Initial proposals to cap payments for larger farm businesses would have had a catastrophic effect. Proposals to reduce payments in manageable increments, spread across the farming industry, will enable businesses to avoid the risk of rapid change with no time to prepare.

"The Government must now ensure that further cuts align with the introduction of the new environmental land management contracts to avoid any cliff edges for farm businesses.

“We are pleased the Government has recognised the need for a UK-wide framework for post-Brexit agricultural and environmental policy and that Westminster and the Welsh Government are committed to working together to achieve this. We will be pressing for an agreement as soon as possible.”