Big landowners could be penalised

PUBLISHED: 09:20 09 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:59 22 October 2010

East Anglia's largest farming business would be hit hard by Brussels proposals to cap Europe's farm support payments to the country's largest landowners and farming businesses.

East Anglia's largest farming business would be hit hard by Brussels proposals to cap Europe's farm support payments to the country's largest landowners and farming businesses.

A £210,000 limit on Common Agricultural Policy payments would hit the Queen's Sandringham estate, which has been paid £370,000. But many other leading land-owners, including Lord Leicester on his Holkham estate and the Marquess of Cholmondeley at Houghton, near Fakenham, would not be caught.

Whitehall will oppose plans by the European Commission to limit payments because an estimated 330 large land-owners in England - including the RSPB, the National Trust and Farmcare, the Co-Op's farming operation - would be penalised.

EUagriculture commiss-ioner Mariann Fischer Boel, who is married to a farmer, wants a payment ceiling of e300,000 to be included in a review of Europe's CAP spending to be carried out next year and in 2008.

The European Commission has argued in the past that major farming businesses should not be subsidised with large payments because they enjoy considerable economies of scale.

However, a Defra official stressed that payments were no longer linked to production but were made for maintain-ing the countryside, landscape and wildlife.

"We don't agree that payments should be limited just because some businesses have more acres than others," he added.

France may welcome the proposals because it has just 30 of the 1,880 farms in Europe likely to be capped while Britain has 330. Germany has 1,430.

When the last national list of subsidies was published in March last year, a total of £1.9bn was paid out to almost 100,000 businesses in England.

The largest single payment for 2002-03 went to the Co-Op's Farmcare division, which received £2.3m, according to the Rural Payments Agency. The National Trust received at least £1.96m and the Forest of Dartmoor Commoners got £2.06m.

In terms of leading regional recipients, the list was headed by a Norfolk-based farm business, Albanwise, which has farms at Barton Bendish, Saxlingham and near Reepham, and also in Yorkshire. It was paid £1.1m.

The top Suffolk farm businesses include Thurlow Estate Farms with support payments of £826,000 and Lord Iveagh's Elveden estates, near Thetford, with £658,000.

In the list of long-established and traditional estates, the Marquess of Townshend's Raynham estate received £310,000 and Lord Hastings' Astley estate around Melton Constable about £303,000.

Europe's proposals to penalise the large farm businesses and estates would not impact on Lord Cholmondeley's Houghton and Cheshire estates, which were paid £162,000. The Earl of Leicester's family estate at Holkham, which extends to more than 25,000 acres and includes many tenanted farm business, would have escaped the penalty because it received just £133,000, accord-ing to the latest available figures.

The latest figures from the Rural Payments Agency for last year's Single Farm Payments reveal that 3,400 businesses in England have not been paid anything, according to the NFU. Under EU rules, payments must be made by June 30 before the government is penalised by Europe.

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