GYS: Tenants want direct payments to be phased out

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The government should move away from direct subsidies for farmers and instead incentivise investment, according to leaders of the tenant farmer movement.

A radical proposal put forward by the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) is for the Basic Payments that are currently delivered to farmers through the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, should not to be replaced like-for-like in a future British agricultural policy.

The central hub of the association’s proposed new policy is a new ‘three pillar’ policy featuring a “properly constituted and focused” agri-environment scheme which would provide a menu of choices which farmers could choose to adopt to deliver environmental benefits.

The TFA also proposes a farm business development element to the new policy which would address a lost generation of investment on farms caused by low profitability.

Speaking at a press conference at the Great Yorkshire Show, George Dunn, the association’s chief executive, said this element would see farmers devise five-year plans for the development of their businesses, which would then be put forward to allow farmers to access government grants and bring British farms up to world-leading standards.

Mr Dunn said the third pillar was all about harnessing the power of ‘Team Britain’, which would see government invest in market research and development, and promotion, which he said the government had shied away from, both domestically and internationally, in recent years.

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Mr Dunn said: “I suppose the most radical thing about our plan is that there is no Basic Payment scheme - no direct payment.

“We had a great debate within our membership about that and whilst some of our tenants still on the old-style tenancies were very wedded to the direct payments, those who were on FBTs - Farm Business Tenancies - were saying actually that the Basic Payment Scheme is a cost to our businesses because we have to claim it and pass it onto the landlord either directly or through rent so there is no benefit to us.

“So we have been looking ahead to a future where we are going to see more FBTs and we thought that Basic Payments don’t have a role within a new policy.”

He added that he wanted to see a greater degree of “import substitution” whereby retailers and public bodies would turn to sourcing more British products to address the nation’s food self sufficiency - which currently stands at less than 70 per cent.

He also wants to see the government driving export markets and the British brand “flying high”.

Stephen Wyrill, the TFA’s national chairman who farms near Catterick, claimed the association was the only farming industry body that had drafted a detailed post-Brexit plan for agriculture in the absence of any ‘plan B’ from government.