Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid recently confirmed the government’s plan to support UK farmers and rural communities by announcing nearly £3 billion of funding.
The money will be used to help farmers through the Brexit transition period once the UK has left the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Direct Payments scheme, which supports farmers across Europe with subsidies. This will be replaced by a new system based on public money for public goods.
Although it has yet to be confirmed how the new system will work, the understanding is that under a Public Money for Public Goods scheme, there would be no subsidies and farmers would enter into contracts with the government (or their relevant appointed bodies) and be paid for what they produce alongside proving good environmental practice.
Therefore, this would be a move away from payment per hectare of land, towards payment for work to protect and enhance the environment. Many see this as a great opportunity to overhaul a system that has been deemed as broken for years.
Others are concerned that the government will hold the purse strings and not pay enough to keep farmers afloat.
Nick von Westenholz, director of EU exit for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said: “To ensure a positive outlook for UK farming after we leave the EU the government will need to couple this financial guarantee of support for our industry with a clear-cut commitment that domestic producers will not be unfairly undermined by imports from overseas produced to standards that would be illegal here.”
The old CAP scheme which will be replaced with the new system is made up of two parts, the largest part being the Direct Payments scheme. This scheme makes a payment to farmers each year based on the amount of land they manage. The other part delivers funding for rural development and multi-year environmental projects.
Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will continue to participate in all EU programmes financed under the EU’s 2014-2020 multi-annual budget.
The UK will no longer be involved with the EU‘s CAP Direct Payments scheme, leaving this year, before all other EU programmes, as 2020 Direct Payments are funded from the 2021 EU budget.
The Government has stated that this promise of money allows the funding for Direct Payments for 2020 to remain at the same level as 2019.
The plan is to spread the funding across two financial years and will be allocated as follows:
• £1,751 million for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
• £449 million for the Scottish Government
• £231 million for the Welsh Government
• £279 million for the Northern Ireland administration
And for 2021/22:
• £92 million for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
• £24 million for the Scottish Government
• £12 million for the Welsh Government
• £15 million for the Northern Ireland administration
This will result in £1,843 million for Defra over the next two years.
NFU Scotland’s president Andrew McCornick said: “With us set to leave the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy on 31st January, it is essential that the farming industry knows where it stands with regards direct payments.
‘Farm businesses are dependent upon these payments and, until we see a fairer redistribution of the share of the profit in the supply chain, direct payments will remain important for all farmers and crofters.”
This sentiment was echoed by a Dartmoor farmer who commented: “It would be better if we didn’t get any funding at all and were self-sufficient, but to be in that position, we need decent prices for what we produce.
‘If all the food produced in the UK stayed in the UK and we were paid fairly for it rather than the UK buying in what we can produce ourselves at a price we can’t compete with, that would be the solution.
‘But the price we get at market isn’t anywhere near what the consumer ends up paying in the supermarket, and that extra money isn’t coming back to us.
‘We want people to buy British but supermarkets seem to charge more for British as if it’s some kind of gimmick. How is that helpful to us when we don’t see any of the profits?”
The Moorlander was unable to discover how many farmers on Dartmoor currently claim subsidies from the CAP, but figures from 2015 state that more than 800 farms and smallholdings claimed that year, many of them receiving less than £3,500.
Nick von Westenholz continued: “We are still waiting for the introduction of a council on trade and standards that can advise ministers on our future trade policy and scrutinise the forthcoming negotiations to ensure our high farming standards are not undermined by substandard imports.
‘We look forward to working with the government in the months ahead, both in designing and implementing a future agricultural policy that will support sustainable food production in the UK, but also in leading the world in pursuing a progressive and sustainable trade policy that has our high environmental and welfare standards at is heart.”
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