FOLLOWING the weirdly entitled consultation document, Health & Harmony, we now have the Agriculture Bill, which confirms the direction of travel for UK agricultural policy post Brexit.

The headline grabbing element is the proposal to remove all direct payments by 2028. This has been widely trailed by Mr Gove and company, so it hardly came as a shock – unlike the economic analysis Defra released alongside the Bill.

Defra did not attempt to sugar-coat the impact of removing all direct payments in terms of farm profitability. It provided analysis by sector for the period 2014-17. Those sectors that generate a high output off little land were not greatly affected.

However, more extensive sectors will be severely affected. The Defra figures show the current direct payments contribute 91 per cent of the profit of upland sheep and beef farms, and that rises to 94 per cent in the lowlands.

Perhaps surprisingly, the worst affected farm sector is mixed farming, where the payments contribute 114 per cent of farm profits. Thus Defra expects such farms to make a loss post-2028.

It won’t have escaped your notice that the three farm types above are very common across the North-East, and so it is the region will be the worst affected one of all. The East of England will see a decline in farm profits of 47 per cent and the average across all the regions excluding the North-East is 61 per cent.

Here in the North-East, the decline in farm profits following the removal of Direct Payments is forecast to be 98 per cent.

Defra has kindly suggested remedies such as reducing input costs and increasing outputs, as well as severely reducing farm rents. However, I suspect that considerable restructuring and creative livestock farming agreements will be required if our farming is to retain any sort of profitability.

So the message is clear to both landowners and farmers: change will be required in order to remain in profit and that will involve paying a lot less rent. Can your business make the change? Will you let land for a reduced rent? Now is surely the time act.

If you would like to discuss how to minimise the possible effects of Brexit, please contact Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates at Sintons, on (0191) 226 3796.