What are the proposed changes?
But what form is this likely to take? According to The Conservative Party’s election manifesto, subsidy support will remain unchanged until at least 2022, with no sudden alterations to agricultural land investment imminent.
Once changes are made, however, the system will be transformed into a one-pillar format, with payments awarded for criteria such as carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas reduction, public goods and woodland regeneration.
The aim of such changes would be to transition into a free market economy, where payment would only be awarded upon the basis of public good provision, rather than providing direct and unquestioning support for farmers.
The policy proposed by The Labour Party is a little different, focusing more on attempts to reconfigure funds for farming so that they better support community benefits, local economies, smaller traders and sustainable practices.
In one area, however, both are united: that changes must – and will – be made to alter and improve the current system.
A new agricultural landscape?
According to the experts, such policies would create an agricultural landscape resembling that which existed in the 1920s and 30s, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. During this period in history, it was a free market economy that existed, with little to no government involvement at all.
Both of the main parties – Labour and the Conservatives – shared a distaste for subsidies, and believed that agricultural issues were best solved through a laissez-faire approach. It is these same sentiments that are echoed today, with a desire to see subsidies moved away from wealthy landowners.
The downside to such policies was that when the Agricultural Act, which had preceded this period, was repealed, wages at the time fell by around 40 per cent, whilst productivity dropped, rural poverty increased, small farms failed and land was widely abandoned due to urban migration.
This is not a history that politicians are unaware of, but many experts claim that small-scale farm failure is not necessarily a bad thing, and will in fact spur farmers into aspiring beyond their current position and increasing their output.
A time of uncertainty
The truth is that we cannot predict with any degree of precision the nature of future policy, except to say that it will have a marked impact on the shape of agriculture in the UK.
Admittedly, this may be detrimental to small, unproductive farms, but it’s also fair to posit that the changes could be very positive for Britain in an environmental sense, encouraging greater numbers of farmers to turn to sustainable practices in order to help subsidise their incomes.
The reality is that if the Conservative manifesto pledge is upheld, farmers are looking at a very different landscape to the one they’re used to: one where they have to work harder, smarter and greener in order to see their businesses thrive.
Whether this will be good or bad for the country as a whole remains to be seen, but it could well mark the first step into a brighter future for the farming industry.