Environment Secretary George Eustice commits to protect farming industry amid radical overhaul of subsidy payments

Environment Secretary George Eustice has pledged to ensure that the whole farming sector is able to take advantage of a radical restructuring of agricultural policies amid concerns that the smallest enterprises might be driven out of business.

Environment Secretary George Eustice inspecting the sheep lines at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. (Picture: Simon Hulme)
Environment Secretary George Eustice inspecting the sheep lines at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. (Picture: Simon Hulme)

The UK’s exit from the European Union has led to the biggest shake-up in the Government’s farming policies in post-war Britain which is reshaping the subsidy payments that have proved to be so vital to supporting the nation’s agriculture industry.

Concerns have been expressed by political opponents that the new structure with a far greater focus on protecting the environment will place smaller farming businesses under immense pressure to afford to carry out stewardship schemes to qualify for the subsidies.

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But Mr Eustice, who was at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate on Wednesday, stressed the Government is committed to ensuring that all sections of the farming industry are able to take advantage of the Environment Land Management Scheme (ELMS).

He said: “We have a real opportunity for change now that we have come out of the European Union. Throughout my lifetime, the Common Agricultural Policy has been associated with one word, reform.

"Every few years there have been changes in the Common Agricultural Policy, which if I am honest, have meant that it has become increasingly bureaucratic. That is something we want to change.

“Once you move away from the arbitrary payments based on land area, then it is not going to be the largest land owners who benefit. The environmental assets on the land will be there to draw an income from, and that is the system which we want to get to.”

When the new legislation was unveiled in January last year, the Government claimed it would transform British farming and enable a balance between food production and the environment to safeguard the countryside and rural communities.

The legislation, which became law in November, involves a scheme to pay farmers “public money for public goods”, that will replace the EU subsidy system after Brexit.

The NFU described the introduction of the Agriculture Act, as the Agriculture Bill gained Royal Assent, as a “landmark moment” for post-Brexit farming.

The wide-ranging changes are being brought in from this year until the end of 2027, and ELMS will reward farmers for measures to protect land, water and air as well as initiatives which help to support plants and wildlife.

However, The Yorkshire Post reported yesterday how Shadow Farming Minister Daniel Zeichner had warned Britain’s reputation as a food-producing nation is being eroded by the radical re-shaping of farming subsidies.

Mr Zeichner was at the Great Yorkshire Show on Tuesday for a rural review which Labour is undertaking.

He said that the reforms were undermining food production, as he claimed many farmers would be driven out of business by the new system as the financial pressures to carry out environmental stewardship schemes would be too great to cope with.