Payments could be redirected from richest farmers to help the environment after Brexit

Michael Gove at the Royal Norfolk Show. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Michael Gove at the Royal Norfolk Show. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

Up to £150m in support payments could be redirected from the richest farmers to projects to improve the environment after Brexit.

As the UK leaves the EU, Environment Secretary Michael Gove wants to end the Common Agricultural Policy system of 'direct payments' based on the amount of land farmed and move to a new arrangement rewarding farmers for 'public goods' such as environmental enhancements and investment in sustainable food production.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced plans for a transition period lasting a number of years to enable farmers to prepare for the new system.

But it also released calculations suggesting that around £150m could be freed up for 'public goods' in the first year through options including:

- A £100,000 cap on payments, affecting around 2,100 farmers (2% of recipients); or

- A progressive reduction in payments affecting around 19,000 farmers (22% of recipients), of whom 13,500 would lose less than £5,000 and around 300 - all with claims worth over £200,00 - would lose more than £75,000.

In line with its manifesto commitment, the Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this parliament in 2022.

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Launching a consultation on his plans, Mr Gove said: 'As we leave the EU, we have a historic opportunity to deliver a farming policy which works for the whole industry.

'Today we are asking for the views of those who will be affected to make sure we get this right so any future schemes reflect the reality of life for farmers and food producers.

'The proposals in this paper set out a range of possible paths to a brighter future for farming. They are the beginning of a conversation, not a conclusion and we want everyone who cares about the food we eat and the environment around us to contribute.'

Farmers, landowners and food producers will also be consulted on other uses for 'public good' money, such as:

- Investment in technology and skills to improve productivity;

- Providing public access to farmland and the countryside;

- Enhanced welfare standards for livestock;

- Measures to support the resilience of rural and upland communities.

NFU regional director Robert Sheasby said: 'As Michael Gove says, these proposals mark the start of a conversation, not a conclusion.

'It's vital for farmers, the countryside and the public that we make the right decisions now - decisions that will shape the future of food production and environmental protection outside of the European Union for many years to come.

'As part of that conversation, we are launching a wide-ranging consultation of our members, urging them to have their say as the NFU develops its response. This will include a meeting in every county in East Anglia in April, with advisers from our Brexit team.'