Coronavirus: Government urged to delay post-Brexit farm subsidy cuts by a year

Cath Crowther is the East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East)

Cath Crowther is the East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East). Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Rural business leaders want the planned phasing-out of EU farm subsidies to be delayed by a year to give farmers more time to adjust as they battle the economic impacts of coronavirus.

The government introduced its updated Agriculture Bill earlier this year, which represents the industry’s biggest policy shake-up in a generation as Britain leaves the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The bill outlines plans to replace the EU’s system of “direct payment” subsidies, based largely on the amount of land farmed, with a new system called ELMS (Environmental Land Management Scheme) which will instead use public money to reward farmers for “public goods” such as environmental work or enhancing animal welfare.

The seven-year transition was due to begin next year. But the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) says political delays, compounded by the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, have made it “absolutely necessary” to delay the start of the transition by 12 months.

CLA East regional director Cath Crowther said: “While there are many good things in the Agriculture Bill, the design of transition away from direct payments still poses significant risks to farming businesses, productivity and the environment, and does not recognise the 18-month delay in passing the bill.

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“Given that government has made slow progress in publishing details of how this transition will work – not to mention the scale of the disruption being created by Covid-19 – it is clear that delaying the transition is now absolutely necessary.”

READ MORE: Subscribe to our daily coronavirus newsletter, with all the latest from where you liveThe CLA has published a policy briefing which sets out the case for delaying the start of transition by one year, and also highlights five further actions required to achieve a “fair transition for all farming businesses”:

• Full details of remaining direct payments for the whole of the seven-year agricultural transition period within three months of the Agriculture Bill being enacted, or 12 months before direct payments are cut.

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• Ensure the profile of direct payment cuts is “proportionate and manageable in the early years of transition” with no business having more than a 25pc cut from their original amount before ELMS is fully available.

• The cuts in direct payments can be “no more than is needed for investment in productivity growth” and ELMS pilot payments to farms only.

• Introduction of a large-scale Business Adaptation Programme to facilitate business change.

• Funding should reflect the scale of need for industry transformation and environmental targets rather than being constrained by allocating the current CAP budget.

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