Owners of vast swathes of farmland should not face “sudden” and “dramatic” cuts to direct financial support as part of the government’s vision for farming’s new era, the leader of an industry group has warned.
A 10-week consultation on the future of farm policy has been launched by the government, in which it proposes an agricultural transition period lasting a number of years after Britain’s exit from the EU.
During this period, direct farm support payments - which under EU rules are currently awarded on the basis of the amount of land used for farming - would continue to help farmers prepare for a new replacement system of support based purely on “public money for public goods”.
At the same time, direct payments to the largest landowners would be reduced to free up around £150m in the first year of the transition period. The government said this money could be diverted to farms delivering environmental enhancement and other public goods.
But the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents landowners, said that the owners of large farmed holdings should be afforded a stable footing to make the transition to a new system too.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “In the short-term, only money that is clearly necessary for transitional measures should be taken out of the system, and no business, no matter how wealthy its owners are perceived to be, should face sudden and dramatic cuts.”
The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Minette Batters, also wants a new approach to farm support to be carefully handled.
She said: “It is vital that we don’t start overhauling parts of the current system which support farmers in providing a healthy and affordable supply of food, without tested and operational alternative programmes and measures in place.”
Opening the consultation, Environment Secretary Michael Gove stressed that the proposals were “the beginning of a conversation, not a conclusion”, but the CLA’s Mr Breitmeyer said he was disappointed by the level of detail on future policy in the consultation document.
“We are up for change, we can do better than the existing EU farming policy. But to do this we need certainty and time to plan. That is what we were promised and instead we have open questions, few decisions and no answers,” he said.
According to Richard Bramley, an NFU member who farms near York, the absence of a resolution on the UK’s post-Brexit trading relationships does not help guide farmers’ responses to the consultation. And he said a five-year transition period for farm support payments might be best.
The NFU will hold meetings for members to discuss the consultation at Pocklington Rugby Club on April 10 and at Darrington Golf Club in Pontefract on April 11.
Adam Bedford, the NFU’s regional director for Yorkshire and the North East, said: “Michael Gove has spoken at length about the themes and values that have informed his thinking, but the devil is always in the detail and I know our members are keen to get down to the nitty gritty.
“We welcome government reassurances that the command paper is not ‘an inflexible new order’, as farmers across Yorkshire will have a lot to add to the discussion.”