The introduction of the Agriculture Bill is certainly to be welcomed and there is no doubt that this represents the biggest shift in agricultural policy since the Agriculture Act 1947, the purpose of which was principally to maximise domestic food production following the food shortages of the First and Second World War.
The commitment to paying farmers for environmental improvements, while still maintaining the productivity of farmland, is certainly to be welcomed. There are, however, a number of issues which have not yet been addressed. One is that the emphasis on the “greening” of agriculture, while very welcome, is likely to result in an increase in the prices of domestically produced food, as subsidies are directed towards environmental improvements, rather than maximising production and keeping costs down. An increase in food prices would surely be unacceptable to any government.
The other issue is whether we allow the importation of food from abroad which is produced to far lower environmental and animal welfare standards and which would be likely to significantly undercut the price of British produce. Politicians have given no clear assurance, despite warm words, that British farming would be protected from unfair competition such as this.
While therefore the Agriculture Bill is welcome, that welcome must be cautious as this stage.