Rich landowners paid millions in farming subsidies

Cow crossing road sign The subsidies are based on land, not numbers of livestock or crops

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Six-figure subsidies meant to help struggling farmers are being paid out to some of Britain's richest landowners, BBC Panorama has found.

Recipients of the EU subsidy include the Queen and the Duke of Westminster.

The programme requested details of the number of landowners claiming a slice of the £3.5bn subsidy in the UK.

The EU's Agriculture Commissioner has called for a cap of about £250,000 for each farmer and measures to ensure that they are actively farming their land.

Privacy rules mean that the names of most recipients are not known, but anonymised details were given showing how many landowners across the UK received more than the cap proposed by Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos.

'Honest farmers suffer'

The data from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland shows that 889 landowners received more than £250,000. Of those, 133 were given more than £500,000 and 47 of those were given more than £1m in subsidy.

Jack Thurston, who campaigns for reforms to the Common Agriculture Policy's subsidy, said: "These are very wealthy people and if we're in the business of handing out public money to farmers because they're poor, these are not the kind of people that we'd be handing that money to."

Mr Thurston said the system is flawed because it rewards large landowners based on the number of hectares they own, not on financial need.

Panorama: Find out more

BBC Panorama logo
  • Samantha Poling presents Panorama: The Money Farmers
  • BBC One, Monday, 5 March at 8.30pm

Officials in Scotland and Wales said they would consider a cap, while Northern Ireland has endorsed a cap of £100,000. But the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for England is against the proposal.

In a statement, Defra said charities that are also large landowners, such as the National Trust, would be harmed if the subsidy requirements were changed.

In a statement, it also said: "Successive UK government have been opposed to capping payments. This is because to avoid losing subsidies, bigger farms would restructure and the only gainers would be lawyers."

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mr Ciolos said the system needs to change: "I am very frustrated because this means millions of very honest farmers have to suffer because some speculators who use this opportunity with the Common Agricultural Policy became more rich only because they have some hectares."

The National Farmers Union has also defended the current subsidy system, saying some payouts to wealthy landowners are "unavoidable".

Peter Kendall, NFU president, said it still remains the best possible system for farmers: "It is one of those side effects of the system we have at present. I want money to go to active farmers who are producing food, and that should matter whether you're producing on two acres, or two thousand acres."

Panorama: The Money Farmers, BBC One, Monday, 5 March at 20:30 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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