Farmers could have subsidies slashed in new post-Brexit moves announced by Government


Moves to slash subsidies for farmers and replace them with payments to protect the environment have been revealed by the Government.

Changes to agricultural policy after Brexit, which will be brought in over seven years up to 2028, are being seen as the most significant change to farming for England in more than 50 years.

The Government roadmap spells out how “direct payments”, paid out under the basic payment scheme for the amount of land farmed, will start to be reduced from 2021 on the way to being phased out by 2028.

The Government has committed to maintaining the £2.4 billion per year for farming over this parliament, but plans to halve the £1.8 billion paid in direct payments by 2024, with the biggest reductions in the highest payment bands.

The £900 million saved will go towards introducing an “environmental land management” (ELM) scheme which will reward farmers for sustainable farming practices, creating new habitats and even rewilding land. There will also be funding for a farming investment fund, which will offer grants for equipment and technology such as robots and new infrastructure such as water storage on farms, and which will open from next year.

Environment Secretary George Eustice will tell farmers and environment groups: “We want farmers to access public money to help their businesses become more productive and sustainable, whilst taking steps to improve the environment and animal welfare, and deliver climate change outcomes on the land they manage.

“Rather than the prescriptive, top down rules of the EU era, we want to support the choices that farmers and land managers take. If we work together to get this right, then a decade from now the rest of the world will want to follow our lead.”

Officials want the new scheme to be more flexible than initiatives under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, in which farmers complained of inspectors measuring field margins with tape measures and penalising them if they were a few centimetres out.

There will also be moves to simplify subsidy schemes while they continue, and efforts to cut red tape and design a more targeted regulatory system, the Government said.

A national pilot for the new environmental scheme is set to be launched in late 2021 and involve up to 5,500 farmers over a three-year period, with plans to roll out the overall programme in late 2024.

Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said the ELM scheme had the potential to “be a genuinely world-leading policy” but the transition was fraught with risk.

“Many farmers will find it hard to see past the drastic cuts to the basic payment scheme, that begin next year. The average family farm will see cuts of over 50 per cent before the new schemes are fully available in 2024.”

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said: “Expecting farmers to run viable, high-cost farm businesses, continue to produce food and increase their environmental delivery, while phasing out existing support and without a complete replacement scheme for almost three years is high risk and a very big ask.

“There are also many uncertainties during this policy transition, not least new trading arrangements after we leave the transition period, as well as the national recovery from Covid-19 and the global challenge of climate change. Moreover, the long-running price war in UK retail often sees farming and growing caught in the crossfire.”

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