Farm support payments to be used to help the environment after Brexit

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Up to £150 million in support payments could be redirected from the richest farmers to projects to improve the environment after Brexit.

As the UK leaves the EU, Environment Secretary Michael Gove wants to end the Common Agricultural Policy system of “direct payments” based on the amount of land farmed and move to a new arrangement rewarding farmers for “public goods” such as environmental enhancements and investment in sustainable food production.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced plans for a transition period lasting a number of years to enable farmers to prepare for the new system.

But it also released calculations suggesting that around £150 million could be freed up for “public goods” in the first year through options including:

– A £100,000 cap on payments, affecting around 2,100 farmers (2% of recipients); or

– A progressive reduction in payments affecting around 19,000 farmers (22% of recipients), of whom  13,500 would lose less than £5,000 and around 300 – all with claims worth over £200,00 – would lose more than  £75,000.

In line with its manifesto commitment, the Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament in 2022.

Launching a consultation on his plans, Mr Gove said: “As we leave the EU, we have a historic opportunity to deliver a farming policy which works for the whole industry.

Stirling Bull Sales
Michael Gove wants to shake up public funding of agriculture. (John Linton/PA)

“The proposals in this paper set out a range of possible paths to a brighter future for farming. They are the beginning of a conversation, not a conclusion and we want everyone who cares about the food we eat and the environment around us to contribute.”

Farmers, landowners and food producers will also be consulted on other uses for “public good” money, such as:

– Investment in technology and skills to improve productivity;

– Providing public access to farmland and the countryside;

– Enhanced welfare standards for livestock;

– Measures to support the resilience of rural and upland communities.

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said: “While most British farmers would much rather farm without support, what we must be absolutely sure of is a level playing field.

“British farms cannot compete with other countries’ agricultural goods on the global market if we are disadvantaged.

“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.”

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