Farmers will be rewarded for protecting the environment and boosting access to the countryside under the government’s post-Brexit agricultural system, it has been revealed.
The "landmark" agriculture bill will replace the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which hands out subsidies to farms based largely on their size, with a new regime once Britain leaves the EU.
The legislation will aim to incentivise farmers with public money for "public good", including work to secure better air and water quality, higher standards of welfare for animals and measures to curb flooding.
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It will replace the system of EU direct payments, in a move that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs claimed would boost the farming industry "after years of inefficient and overly bureaucratic policy dictated to farmers by the EU".
Direct payments will be phased out over a seven-year transition period beginning in 2021.
Unveiling the legislation, environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Our landmark agriculture bill will transform British farming, enabling a balance between food production and the environment which will safeguard our countryside and farming communities for the future.
"This is one of the most important environmental reforms for many years, rewarding farmers for the work they do to safeguard our environment and helping us meet crucial goals on climate change and protecting nature and biodiversity."
She added that the new system would “reward our hard-working farmers for delivering public goods, celebrating their world-leading environmental work and innovative, modern approach to food production".
The new bill has already been welcomed by the National Farmers Union, which hailed it as "one of the most significant pieces of legislation for farmers in England for over 70 years".
But the union urged ministers to back up their promises that farming standards will not be undercut in an attempt to secure trade deals around the world after Brexit.
“We'll continue to press the government to introduce a standards commission as a matter of priority to oversee and advise on future food trade policy and negotiations," the organisation said.
Countryside charity the CPRE said: "This bill represents a radical rethink of farming practice and, most importantly, finally starts to recognise the need to regenerate soil – the fundamental building block of our entire agricultural system."