Farmers' leaders protest over 'green' subsidy plan

Combine harvester Every household spends £400 each year to subsidise farmers

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Farmers' leaders have urged ministers not to bring in plans to cut subsidies by 15% and transfer cash to wildlife protection in England and Wales.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has written to every MP, saying the plan to share £3.5bn of farm grants would disadvantage British farmers.

The NFU also warns MPs that going ahead with the move would risk rural votes.

The government said the money would help to build on the "success" of its environmental and rural growth schemes.

Wildlife groups have used newspaper advertisements to urge the government to keep its countryside commitments.

They also say votes are at stake as every household pays £400 a year to subsidise farmers - and people expect their money will be used to protect the environment, not just to shore up farmers’ budgets.

In the summer, the EU set the framework for how the money should be spent with its scheme to "green" the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The greening plans were heavily diluted under pressure from farmers, but large landowners will in future need to do more to collect subsidies by leaving existing grassland unploughed, diversifying their crops and setting aside some land for wildlife.

'Unfair transfer'

What is being decided is exactly how the farm subsidy pot for in England and Wales should be divided between conflicting interests. The decision is tough because the overall size of the pot has shrunk as Europe's leaders attempted to shrink the £50bn CAP.

Start Quote

"The threat of disproportionate reductions in their making them angry and frustrated with this government”

End Quote Peter Kendall NFU president

The decision on the share-out is imminent.

In England and Wales ministers have indicated a wish to shift the maximum allowable - 15% - away from direct payments to farmers - which is mostly for owning farmland. The money will go towards protecting wildlife and stimulating the rural economy.

The NFU letter to MPs says this is unfair to farmers in England and Wales because farmers elsewhere are being better protected. In Scotland the government has decided to shift 9.5% of subsidies away from direct payments.

The NFU also complains that the government appears ready to transfer this amount without having decided the purpose of the transfer.

President Peter Kendall says in the letter to MPs: "Farmers remain at a complete loss to understand what the government intends to use this money on, and how it can be used effectively for the benefit of their businesses.

"The threat of disproportionate reductions in their payments vis a vis their immediate competitors is making them angry and frustrated with this government."

'Cutting life'

Start Quote

Our environmental and rural growth schemes have delivered real benefits to the natural environment and rural economy”

End Quote Defra

Wildlife groups who take the opposite view believe Prime Minister David Cameron will be discussing the issue over the weekend.

The RSPB, which has registered huge losses in farmland birds through intensive subsidised farming, has taken a full-page advertisement in the Times warning: "This weekend the prime minister could cut the life from the English countryside."

Green groups say public money spent on subsidising farmers should go on public good like thriving wildlife and well-managed water catchment areas to retain water for use and to prevent flooding.

A Defra spokesperson said: "Our environmental and rural growth schemes have delivered real benefits to the natural environment and rural economy.

"We want to build on these schemes' success by channelling into them some of the money from the budget for farmers' direct payments.

"We have sought views on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy in England and will make an announcement shortly."

The final division will be complicated, with firms supporting rural development also hoping to benefit from the 15% transfer of funds.

In Scotland the government is consulting on plans to shift 9.5% of subsidies away from direct payments to farmers - a payment which is mostly for owning farmland. The money will go towards protecting wildlife and stimulating the rural economy

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin


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  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    this is just another kick in the face for the small and tenant farmer the price of farmland has quadrupled in recent years more than central London property values and is being bought up by speculators and more worryingly foreign sovereign wealth funds the UK has the most liberal regulation in Europe on farmland ownership and sale of such land

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    As a "yokel" all my life its good to see hedges,trees etc being replanted in the countryside and that is a direct result of schemes such as this-farmings darkest day was the 70's/80's where everything was cut down for bigger fields and bigger profits.Yes some may go to the wall but thats business i'm afraid-and someone else will farm that land

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Farm subsidies are a massive waste of public money in any form. Re-invest our taxes appropriately and fill the gap in education as the world starts to pass us by - invest in the future not the past

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    The UK needs to be self sufficient in food. We need to ensure small farmers survive. They also protect the countryside. It is the large farming organisations that cream off the subsidies, grub out hedges to make prairies and want indoor dairies with hundreds of cattle who never see a field who destroy nature. As for GM - who hs a crystal ball to see what damage it will do in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    There is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding here about the single farm payment here and the amounts farmers get in addition to not understanding the many cross compliance requirements under the scheme which ensure farm land is managed properly. As a small farmer owner a reduction in the SFP will bankrupt the business and invariably lead to a price rise in foods that will hit everyone!


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