ENVIRONMENT Secretary George Eustice has said BPS payments will be reduced in a "progressive" way from 2021 with the largest landowners initially taking the biggest hit.

Speaking at the NFU Conference he said the initial reduction would be five per cent and that the Environment Land Management schemes (ELMs) will be available from 2024.

Mr Eustice said he was keen to reduce the administrative burden on farmers.

He said: "We need to get away from filling in forms and maps. We need trusted agronomists, who will walk the farm with the farmer and put together a scheme. We want it to be a much more sensible, human-based approach with the agronomist, who knows what they’re doing. If we do that, we will be able to get these schemes to work for farmers."

Commenting on the three crop rule, Mr Eustice said he had never agreed with it. "It won't be staying for long," he said.

He said the development of an exit scheme to help older farmers retire was being considered. It may offer several years BPS payment in one final settlement in return for them surrendering their tenancy or selling or renting their farm to create an opportunity for a new entrant.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme may be further simplified to help farmers gradually move towards the future policy.

Mr Eustice envisaged three components to the Environmental Land Management scheme.

He said: "Firstly, there will be a sustainable farming incentive which will be open to any farmer and will incentivise participation in farm level measures such as integrated pest management, sensitive hedgerow management and soil health.

"Secondly, there will be a local environment tier which will incentivise interventions including the creation of habitats, improving biodiversity, tree planting, and natural flood management. Finally, there will be a landscape scale tier which will support woodland creation, peatland restoration and other potential land use changes."

He said the Agriculture Bill will give farmers a big role in tackling flooding.

It will encourage land management that supports flood management – releasing the pressure on lowland and urban areas by keeping water in the soil in upland catchments to slow the flow of water through the landscape. "Protecting homes and communities from flooding is a public good and is one of the objectives set out in our Agriculture Bill," said Mr Eustice.

The Bill will include a legal obligation on the Government to produce an assessment of the country's food security every five years.

He said: "We know you need certainty for your businesses. There will be a new requirement for a multi-annual plan, the first of which will cover all seven years of the agricultural transition and there will be five-yearly plans after that. These plans will set out exactly how we intend to use the powers in the Bill to deliver success for our farmers.

"Soil health is critical both for our environment and for farm productivity so that is added as an objective and the often underappreciated value of our rare and native breeds is recognised at last."

The Bill will also introduce new powers to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain and introduce grants to help farmers add value to their produce and reduce costs.

Mr Eustice recognised change will take time but said seven years was a realistic goal. "We will not undertake change in the chaotic way that New Zealand found itself having to," he said. "We want this to be an orderly transition from the old policy to the new. We will pay close attention to the sequencing of different interventions and changes to make sure that we get this right."