Charlotte Newton, chartered surveyor and rural grant specialist at Vickers & Barrass, looks at two important pieces of legislation which are currently being debated – the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill – and the impact of them on farmers.

THE final debating stage of the Agriculture Bill is a time when the new legislation will take shape and amendments proposed by the House of Lords either accepted or rejected.

“Public opinion seems to be split on the emotive subject of food standards,” says Charlotte Newton, chartered surveyor specialising in rural grants at Vickers and Barrass, Chartered Surveyors and Estate Agents.

“With the final stage of the Agriculture Bill now heading through the House of Commons, most of the amendments, which were tabled by the House of Lords, are expected to be rejected by the Commons and removed,” says Charlotte.

Lord Curry’s amendment backed by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) looked to strengthen the role of the newly-formed Trade and Agriculture Commission to provide safeguards against British food and farming standards being undermined by imports produced to lower standards.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has voiced his fears in the press recently recognising the impact on British farmers of "an influx of lower standard products”.

Charlotte says: "The main concerns cover the importation of chlorinated chicken and beef produced using hormones, both from the USA. Both these practices are outlawed in the EU and concerns are that products using these treatments will be allowed into the UK supply chain."

The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains in law UK standards on environmental protection, animal welfare, animal and plant health and food safety at the end of the transition period. This provides a firm basis for maintaining the same high level of protection for both domestic and imported products.

Lord Gardiner has said that EU law banning the import and production of hormone-treated beef has been transposed into domestic law and will continue to operate in the UK after the end of the transition period. In addition, that it remains the case in the UK that no substances other than potable water are approved to wash poultry carcases.

Further legislation regarding the environment is under debate. A new green governance body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – is in the process of being set up, which will be legislated for by the landmark Environment Bill.

Charlotte says: “From January 2021, a new independent statutory body will be formed – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) that will oversee compliance with environmental law. This is following the 2018 government publication A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, which sets out the future vision for the environment and measures to be taken to manage land sustainably, help nature to recover and enhance the natural beauty of landscapes.

"In addition, it looks at connecting people with the natural environment to improve health and wellbeing, and increasing the efficiency of resource use and the reduction of waste and pollution.

“It is thought that the Common Agricultural Policy did not benefit soil health sufficiently and Defra will invest in a system that will allow the improvements in soil health to be measured and good practice encouraged with grass leys in rotations and cover crops.”

Charlotte says that the introduction of min-till cultivations in arable cropping are beneficial to soil health but are not always suitable for all types of soils or crop rotations. The improvements in soil health through the addition of more organic matter and biological activity will lead to soils that have more water-retaining qualities and therefore help to reduce erosion of soils and depletion of nutrients.

Charlotte says that there will be renewed emphasis on tree planting with large-scale planting encouraged to help the future demand for home-grown timber, which has seen a reduction in conifer planting over the last 20 years.

She says: “Currently, the UK is only about 20 per cent self-sufficient in timber, so there is enormous potential in this area. There will be opportunities for natural flood management, which involves the use of a variety of measures including tree planting, riverbank restoration, building small-scale woody dams, reconnecting rivers with their floodplains and storing water temporarily on open land.

"These measures alone will not be expected to fully offer protection but when used along with more traditional measures results should prove beneficial.”