Claims that Defra is planning to let the bottom 25 per cent of farms disappear should be treated with caution, but it would be naive to dismiss them as wide of the mark.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove is an ardent free marketeer with a view to end direct payments and ’green’ the countryside. It is, therefore, not too far-fetched to think he would happily let the worst performers exit the industry.
The problem, however, is that if there is truth in the suggestion (page 1) then it is one based on spreadsheet economics, dreamed up with little knowledge of the farming sector and how it really works. While it is easy to say that as the state steps away from supporting agriculture the worst farmers will simply be collateral damage, it ignores the fact farming is not that simple.
Far from those with the lowest returns finding themselves heading for the exit post-Brexit, we all know many farmers have the capacity to live on very minimal returns as it is the lifestyle, not the money, they crave. What such an approach could actually result in is those farms in the middle which have invested heavily finding themselves facing the greatest hardship.
Think about it, many of those who made major investments in one economic era could end up struggling to repay loans if the direct payment tap was suddenly turned off. This could also be exacerbated by falling farm values which were, at one stage, key to the continuing support of their lender.
With a year to go until Brexit, the perception of Defra and Gove among farmers does not improve and fears mount that it is the environment, not food and farming, which is centre stage in the department.
We also still know very little about what agriculture in the post-Brexit world will be like and key questions around trade and labour go unanswered.
Clarity is key for any business, but agriculture is being forced to plod on in a mire of confusion and conjecture with little hope of respite for the foreseeable future.