Agriculture bill: the soil at the heart of the UK agricultural subsidies revolution

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The promise to do more to protect the soil will be included in a vision for the UK agricultural industry to be presented later by the government.

Ministers have accepted that farmers need incentives to cultivate in a way that leaves healthy soil for future generations.

Protection has become a central theme of the Agriculture Bill that is returning to Parliament.

There is three times more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere.

But much has been lost thanks to intensive agriculture and deforestation.

That is fueling climate change and compromising attempts to feed the world.

Radical change

Until recently, the soil has been a Cinderella theme, although human life depends on the few inches above the rock.

In its bill, the government promises to reward British farmers who protect the soil.

It is part of a radical change in the subsidy system, previously announced, to remove subsidies from the EU Common Agricultural Policy, which basically pays farmers for owning land.

Instead, in Britain after Brexit they will be rewarded for providing services for society such as clean air, clean and abundant water, flood protection and thriving wildlife.

The subsidy changes will be made gradually in seven years.

There is already concern on the part of farmers and environmentalists about the fact that the government has not established by law its promise that UK food standards will not be reduced in any subsequent Brexit agreement with the United States.

Minette Batters of the NFU said: “This bill is one of the most important laws for farmers in England for over 70 years.

“However, farmers across the country will still want to see legislation that supports government guarantees that they will not allow the import of food produced to standards that would be illegal here.”

“We will continue to pressure the government to introduce a standards commission as a priority issue to monitor and advise on future food trade policies and negotiations.”

CPRE, the rural charity, welcomed what it called a generational opportunity to change the way England cultivates for the better.

He said: “This bill represents a radical rethinking of agricultural practice and, most importantly, it finally begins to recognize the need to regenerate the soil, the fundamental component of our entire agricultural system.”

Although the bill has been applauded, the policies are still in the embryonic stage and, as the details emerge, conflicts will surely arise.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

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