MICHAEL GOVE'S long-awaited Agriculture Bill setting out his post-Brexit plan for farm support was published in Westminster this week.

The announcement made much mileage out of the 'escape' from 50 years of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, and how the UK government was now free to direct support money to farmers and land managers who deliver

'public goods', such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.

This 'Green Brexit' would, said Mr Gove, replace the 'ineffective' system of Direct Payments, which was skewed towards the largest landowners and not linked to any specific public benefits. In practical terms, Mr Gove said that farmers would be supported over a seven year transition period as the UK left the CAP. For 2019, Direct Payments will be made on the same basis as now, subject to simplifications where possible. Direct Payments for 2020 will also be made in much the same way as now. There will then be an agricultural transition period in England between 2021 and 2027 as payments are gradually phased out.

Speaking from Westminster, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “This is a detailed document and we will go over the proposals with a fine-tooth comb in the coming few days to fully establish what it means for Scotland’s farmers and crofters. We will also make full use of our time here in Westminster over the next 48 hours."

In past discussions on 'overarching' UK frameworks and the Bill, NFUS said it had been crystal clear that the interests of Scottish agriculture would be best served by Scotland setting its own future policy so that it respects and underpins the unique agricultural profile of Scotland and recognises how Scotland differs from the rest of the UK.

“Preserving or enhancing future funding levels for Scottish agriculture remains a red line issue for NFU Scotland as we are clearly stepping away from previous funding arrangements determined by the CAP," said Mr McCornick. "We also want to be reassured that previous commitments on how Scotland’s share of the agricultural pot of funding will be determined will be delivered on. That must take the review of convergence funding into consideration."

Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said that the Agriculture Bill represented a 'missed opportunity' for the UK Government to deliver on promises made during the referendum and since – namely that Scottish farmers would continue to receive at least the same level of funding.

Mr Ewing claimed that Westminster's powers under the bill, as drafted, could leave the Scottish Parliament unable to continue to provide coupled support for active beef and sheep farmers and LFASS payments for remote farming areas.

"I therefore hope that the UK Government will agree both to amend the Bill to deliver the promises on future funding made during the referendum, and to fully respect devolution by engaging with the Scottish Government on strengthening the legislative consent convention, so that in due course we would be able to consider inviting the Scottish Parliament to give its legislative consent.”

The National Sheep Association reckoned that the Bill did not go far enough to recognise the public goods already being delivered by sheep farmers throughout the UK. Chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Having a transition period is one thing, but we need confidence we are transitioning to something that is workable and viable. NSA welcomes the concept of farmers being paid for the public goods they provide, but such an approach must recognise what is already being done for animal health and welfare, soil, air and water quality, countryside management and public access – and, absolutely vitally, food production.

“Maintaining the provision of nutritious, quality food is in the public interest and we don’t believe this can be achieved by leaving it to the vagaries of a purely profit-driven marketplace. Farmers would prefer to be in a position where they are not reliant on support payments, but market mechanisms and many farms structures just do not allow for that at the moment.”