‘We disagree!’ UK farmers NOT on brink after loss of post-Brexit EU subsidies

Farming: 'A robust, resilient, sustainable system' is needed

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Following Brexit, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payment system, which British farmers have become accustomed to for 40 years, is being phased out, with Downing Street now proposing a plan based on improved productivity and environmental management of land. The Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) will be rolled out in full in 2024 with a trio of payments available for sustainable farming, local nature recovery and landscape recovery. ​

There has been a furious backlash to the plans, with a damning report released by a group of ministers making up the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) launching a scathing attack against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The Government department in charge of UK farming has been accused of providing “no detail” on how the schemes will work, or how it will offset the loss of EU payments – which will be sliced in half in just two years time.

The report warned English farms make on average a net profit of just £22,800 a year, with Conservative MP Clifton-Brown expressing fears from the community smaller farmers and tenants could go out of business.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “We have known we were replacing the CAP since 2016 and still we see no clear plans, objectives or communications with those at the sharp end – farmers – in this multi-billion pound, radical overhaul of the way land is used and, more crucially, food is produced in this country.

“Farmers, especially the next generation of farmers who we will depend on to achieve our combined food production and environmental goals, have been left in the dark and it is simply wrong that Defra’s own failures of business planning should knock on to undermine the certainty crucial to a critical national sector.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice recently said as part of the new payments scheme, farmers and landowners will soon be able to bid for funding for “rewilding” the countryside.

As part of the first of the “landscape recovery” part of ELMS, up to 15 pilot projects will be awarded funding, and Mr Eustice has launched a huge defence of the Government’s plans for UK farmers.

He said: “We disagree with many of the points made by the committee which fail to take account of recent developments.

“Farm incomes have improved significantly since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and there will never be a better time to improve the way we reward farmers.

“In December, I set out comprehensive details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive including full payment rates and we published an in-depth analysis of UK food security and agricultural output.

“In the past week we’ve shared further details of the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes and announced a major increase in payment rates for those farmers involved in existing agri-environment schemes.”

The PAC report said Defra had admitted during its enquiry into ELMS that without the detail of plans, confidence in the scheme could appear to be “just blind optimism as far as farmers are concerned”.

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This report also accused Defra of being over-optimistic about what it will be able to achieve by when, which could potentially trigger numerous delays and uncertainty over the delivery timetable for ELMS.

It also claims the Government department has failed to explain whether the ELMS system contributes to Downing Streets targets for the environment.

PAC now wants Defra to report to them in the coming weeks, and then each year on its plans will work for the transition to a post-Brexit farming system.

The committee also pointed to waning trust between UK farmers and Defra to to deliver the new programme, accusing the department of a last minute approach” to providing information.

In 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said: “Once we leave… we will have a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farming – and we will make sure that farmers get a better deal.

“Brexit presents enormous opportunities for our country and it’s time we looked to the future with pride and optimism.”

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