UK life outside the EU officially began just over a year ago with the end of the Brexit transition period.
t over the past year, the problems of adapting to the new provisions have been more numerous than expected.
The long-term form of the EU-UK Protocol on Northern Ireland affecting trade and payments has not yet taken its final form.
Foreign Minister Liz Truss has taken responsibility for the Brexit negotiations previously held by Lord Frost.
A critical milestone was reached on January 1 when the UK began to formally enforce UK import policies on the import of goods from the EU.
This came into effect before there was any definitive certainty about the impact it will have on Northern Ireland.
The post-Brexit regime also comes with uncertainties about the longer-term future of agriculture in the UK, including Northern Ireland.
In a useful and clear illustration of the prospects for government support for agriculture, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots launched a political consultation on future agricultural proposals for NI before Christmas.
The policy document is a coherent and well-argued statement of the possible direction of policy proposals to be delivered by decentralized agencies coordinated through the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera).
As a result of Brexit, agriculture faces an uncertain financial future. There were tensions following the referendum on EU membership over whether in the UK Brexit would lead to sweeping changes in the form of government financial support for agriculture .
However, it was agreed that agricultural policy will remain a responsibility of Stormont. The first steps towards the new financial support modalities are now clearer.
In short (and in a simplistic statement), there is a commitment that for at least an initial three years, the scale of financial support will be maintained at roughly pre-Brexit levels.
There are currently 25,900 farms in Northern Ireland. Recently, the agricultural sector has produced an annual gross value added of around £ 674 million.
In support of this agricultural activity, there is official financial support of almost £ 300million per year.
The Treasury has pledged to provide “nearly £ 1.0 billion over the next three years”.
Combined with other residual EU funds allocated in NI’s rural development program, this will maintain liquidity at the pre-Brexit level of funds until March 2025.
Daera is also working under a constraint that the overall level of agricultural support that can be paid in NI without resorting to state aid clearance is £ 382.2million per year.
The overhaul of agricultural policies will be constrained by the size of the Stormont budget available and, in an important and growing constraint, will have to take into account climate change policies from an agenda of the Green Growth Strategy.
The official policy matrix will encompass relevant aspects of an NI food strategy and an environmental strategy.
Daera presented for consultation a series of different policy measures which are linked to each other in the form of 14 work streams, of which eight are the main components. The essential foundation of the new framework is what is described as a measure of resilience.
Although Daera avoids a direct comparison with the old Single Farm Payment, which was essentially linked to the size of the farm (with conditional qualifications), the basic resilience measure will initially allocate the majority of the budget.
Strategic thinking on the role of resilience measurement is nuanced by a statement that the resilience budget will be reduced to much lower levels as funding is released for other measures.
The other measures, under the 14 work streams, are designed in different ways to improve productivity, efficiency and environmental improvements which are essential improvements in the performance of the agricultural industry.
In a support mechanism, alongside the basic income of the resilience measure, it is proposed to have specific provisions to provide a crisis framework within the framework of the resilience provisions.
Farmers will need to integrate elements of risk management and resilience into their business models. This section of the new framework would be funded by cutting up the agricultural budget or, if warranted, through a separate funding offer. This suggestion can be a useful response for farmers when market incomes are unusually low.
The important feature of the resilience measure is that it is designed to be a decreasing source of agricultural support, intended to decline as other positive development measures create other sources of income or reduce costs.
Support for development schemes will come from a series of programs including:
A head durability package;
An agriculture package for nature;
Agriculture for carbon measures (for carbon reduction);
An investment measure;
A measure of knowledge;
A measure of generational renewal, and;
Supply chain metrics.
Each of these programs will need to be tested to ensure that the use of limited public funds generates sufficient additional income for the farms of tomorrow.
A greater part of farm income in the future will come from the market and a decreasing part will be direct income support through resilience payments.
It is a stimulating base from which a more ambitious agricultural sector can emerge.