In DepthAgriculture

United Kingdom breaks from EU farm subsidies

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Science  24 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6476, pp. 348-349
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6476.348

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Summary

When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union at the end of the month, it will sever ties with Europe's farm subsidy policies—and to many researchers, that is a good thing. Last week, the U.K. government proposed radical changes to £3 billion a year in agricultural spending that will focus the money on benefits to climate, ecosystems, and the public. Under the bill, introduced to Parliament 16 January and expected to become law within a few months, farmers will be given subsidies not simply for cultivating land—the current EU system—but for delivering "public goods," such as sequestering carbon, enhancing habitat for wildlife, and improving recreational access to the countryside. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs wants to tailor payment schemes for different regions but figuring out how to channel payments for maximum benefit will require research. Many questions remain about exactly how the system will be implemented. Farmers—especially owners of small operations that depend on subsidies—have eyed the proposed changes warily. The National Farmers Union, the United Kingdom's biggest agricultural trade group, lobbied for more emphasis on supporting food production. Other countries will be watching closely, too.

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