THE Agriculture Bill provides a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' for British agriculture, says Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

But he has warned against rushing the transition to the new payments model.

Whilst the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is not due to be universally available for four years, the transition period towards the new regime is due to begin in less than a year.

But, as this is the biggest change in funding for the countryside in almost 50 years, the CLA is urging Government to delay the start of phasing out Direct Payments until a comprehensive business adaptation programme is in place – providing grants, advice and training.

Mr Bridgeman said: "The Environmental Land Management Scheme is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape farming policy, and further prove the environmental credentials of the farming community.

"But less than a year from the beginning of the transition period we still have no idea how ELMS will work in practice, and what it will mean for individual farmers.

"We have a tremendous opportunity here, but removing Direct Payments before the new schemes are ready will put otherwise viable businesses at risk unnecessarily.

“The CLA has been calling for payments for public goods for many years and we know that ELMS is an exciting, ambitious and potentially world-leading policy. That is why it is so important to get the transition right.

“The vast majority of Direct Payments should not be removed until individual farmers are able to take up the new scheme.”