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Farm subsidy cuts ‘must be delayed’, sector leaders urge as crisis deepens

PUBLISHED: 16:48 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:58 23 April 2020

Now is not the right time to cut farmers' direct subsidies, sector leaders argue  Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

Now is not the right time to cut farmers' direct subsidies, sector leaders argue Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

Andrew Fairs

East Anglian farmers’ leaders are pleading with government to delay the implementation of a new subsidy system which will see direct payments for crop growing activities cut to zero over a seven-year period.

National Farmers' Union East regional director Rachel Carrington  Picture: WARREN PAGE/PAGEPIXNational Farmers' Union East regional director Rachel Carrington Picture: WARREN PAGE/PAGEPIX

The UK is set to diverge from its current farm subsidy system – which derives from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – towards the latter part of this year. Farmers are worried that such a big financial change amid the global coronavirus crisis could be a step too far.

It will mean farmers will have less direct income to ride out the volatility of the sector - which has to deal with the ups and downs of the weather, disease issues and fluctuations in global commodity prices and exchange rates – compared to their European neighbours.

MORE – Growers urged to flag seasonal job vacancies as ‘Pick for Britain’ website goes live

Under a new post-Brexit system, crops put in the ground at the end of this year and into next spring will be subject to the first phased reduction in the subsidy – which could leave many farmers with big financial headaches if the growing season doesn’t go the way they hope. They have to get their applications for funds in by May next year, with payments going out from December.

A new environmental ‘public money for public goods’ regime is planned as part of the major overhaul.

CLA East regional director Cath Crowther  Picture: SONYA DUNCANCLA East regional director Cath Crowther Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) are arguing now is not the right time, given the global pandemic and the disruption is it causing.

The CLA has written to rural MPs urging them to put pressure on the UK government to allow a year’s delay at least to its plans.

This delay would also allow time to implement a Business Adaptation Programme to provide funding for advice, training and grants for buildings, equipment and infrastructure to bolster sustainable and profitable farming objectives.

CLA East regional director Cath Crowther said it was “crucial” the UK government ensured a fair transition which allowed businesses to make the right choices.

“The reduction in Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) should be delayed by at least a year, until there is greater clarity on what farmers will be transitioning too.

“While the new Environment Land Management scheme (ELM) will offer opportunities, it’s still unclear how this system will work in practice and what it will mean for individual farmers.”

NFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington said farmers dealing with the immediate disruptive impact of the coronavirus crisis needed more time to prepare.

“We are calling for the agricultural transition period to be delayed until December 2022 at the earliest,” she said.

“It’s vital we avoid a repeat of previous failings when it comes to introducing new support schemes, through a desire to stick to what is becoming an increasingly unrealistic timeline.

“Consultations over the new Environmental Land Management scheme are also now on hold, strengthening the case for a delay.”

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw, who farms a Fordham, near Colchester, has written to farming minister Victoria Prentis this week to raise farmers’ concerns, and call for immediate assistance to farmers in need of support with BPS and Environmental Stewardship payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

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