BREXIT is not an event, it is a process that will take years to unfurl across the farming industry, said CLA policy director Prof. Allan Buckwell.

Speaking at the latest Northern Farming Conference, he said: “It’s a process that will certainly last a decade, and possibly longer still.

“It took us 43 years to get to where we were, so we’re going to spend a long time rolling that back and letting the dust settle.”

We were withdrawing from the largest free-trade market in the world and it remained to be seen what sort of toll the unresolved issues of tariffs, frictionless trade and fluctuating exchange rates would take.

Within our own shores, there were just as many questions about how the new British Farming Policy would operate in practise too.

The Agriculture Bill, introduced last September, certainly rang the changes. Direct payments will be phased out – during an agricultural transition period that will run between 2021 and 2027 – and replaced with Environmental Land Management subsidies.

Farmers will be paid for ‘public goods’, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards and flood prevention.

Announcing it, Defra Secretary Michael Gove said: “After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit.

“This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.”

Prof. Buckwell pointed out the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy regulations had been translated into UK law via the Withdrawal Bill, so the current standards by which farmers operated would continue.

But he questioned the very basis of the new agricultural bill. “How widely do we define ‘public goods’,” he asked.

“Food security should be in there, as another delegate said this morning. Regulations are needed around food security to protect your product sources, such as soil health, but in the event of new, international trade markets, how do we ensure food security?”

That particular concept was “far too vague” to elicit either subsidies or tax breaks. Farmers and non-governmental organisations needed to make the case for what should be defined as ‘public goods’.

Another problem with ‘public goods’ was that they weren’t transacted in the food chain. “None of the food production systems are paid for, so the nearest thing farmers can claim for are related stewardship elements.

“The biggest argument upland farmers have is that they are preserving the landscape the public wants - if they don’t do that, it will close over with scrub.

“But that doesn’t acknowledge we need to pay farmers enough to keep sheep there, and there is a lot farmers do they aren’t - and won’t be - paid for.

“The focus is entirely on getting the withdrawal deal at the moment and nobody is focusing on the practicalities.”

Batters: National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said the bill “falls short of our aspirations,” adding British farmers would need to compete with farmers all over the world, nearly all of whom are supported financially to produce food.

Batters said the bill must provide powers to pause the seven-year transition if it is providing unmanageable for farmers and threatening domestic food supplies.

“A free and frictionless trade deal with our biggest trading partner, the EU, is absolutely critical to the farming industry,” she added.

Farmers will see a reduction in payments during the transition period with the biggest cuts for those receiving the most funds.

Direct payments will eventually be replaced by a new Environmental Land Management System which will be developed and trialed with farmers.