Pledges made by politicians for agriculture have been thin on the ground in the run-up to this month’s general election – with one notable exception.
The Conservative manifesto promises to maintain farm support at current levels for an extra two years after Brexit. As a pledge, it is as significant as it is surprising.
It means direct payments are likely to remain until 2022 rather than the previously pledge of 2020.
Manifesto pledges made by the main opposition parties have been far more predictable – and give no timescale.
Labour has promised to restructure farm support towards smaller producers and environmental measures. The Lib Dems have made similar assurances.
The Tory pledge is significant pledge for a number of reasons – not least that the Conservatives are widely expected to win the election and be returned to government for another five years.
But the Conservative promise also gives farmers some much needed certainty as the CAP is unpicked and a new British agricultural policy introduced.
And it shows that the Brexit process is going to continue long after we leave the European Union.
If all goes to plan, the UK will leave the EU in March 2019. The current system of farm suppport – the Basic Farm Payment – was already guaranteed until 2020.
It is now clear that the same system, or something very similar to it, will continue until 2022 if the Tories are re-elected.
It also means that a re-elected Conservative government is unlikely to introduce a British agricultural policy to replace the CAP within the lifetime of the next parliament.
Any new policy and support system would be implemented after 2022.
This will be welcome news to the many farmers who rely on subsidies to make a profit.
Direct payments make up 55% of UK farm income and many growers and livestock producers would be out of business without them.
But it isn’t all good news. A “successful” Brexit for agriculture will rely on the UK securing a good trade deal with the EU so producers still have tariff-free access to the European market.
And that will be much harder to achieve than simply underwriting payments for another two years.