Direct payments have kept farmers on the land, but without allowing them to make real money. Removing them would mean shoppers have to pay a realistic price for their food, says Neil Farmer, an arable and sheep farmer working on the Herefordshire and Worcestershire border.
I was 13 at the time of the first European referendum in 1975.
I remember seeing the TV graphics showing the whole country in blue, meaning remain, and only Shetland in red, meaning they had voted leave.
My parents voted to remain back then, but they have always since said they were conned because they voted for the then Common Market, which was basically just a trading area.
Of course the European Union has taken over more and more, which was never an issue in 1975 and something my parents did not vote for.
Fast forward to 2016 and the second European referendum, and it is clear to me that David Cameron and George Osborne thought it was in the bag from the get go.
They never gave a thought to the leave vote winning.
If they had taken the time to drive around Herefordshire and Worcestershire, they would have seen around 50 leave posters to every remain poster. In fact, I only saw one remain poster, so the leave vote came as no surprise to me.
Then they both jumped ship, leaving others to sort it all out which was a disgrace in my view.
As for the deal which was done over the weekend at Chequers, I do not think it will be accepted by the leave supporters, and since I started writing this the Brexit Secretary David Davis has resigned, so maybe I was correct.
I wonder how this proposal would compare with the original rules for the Common Market that my parents voted for all those years ago.
A free trade Europe was always the aim back then I thought, and that may be the best outcome now, but without all the nonsense rules the EU loves to make up because it has nothing better to do.
I would not be surprised if we ended up leaving the EU with no deal – it would call the European negotiators bluff for a start and they would soon be asking the UK for a trade deal.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove says he will replace the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) with money for environmental payments. Does he not realise there have been stewardship payments in place for many years?
How much ‘environment’ does he want. He should also come to Hereford and Worcestershire to see just how much ‘environment’ there is – it is everywhere.
The IACS, single payment and basic payment have kept many farmers on the land, but in many cases only just. The payments have kept them going but without making any real money.
Many bills, for contract work for example, are not settled until the payment arrives. The payment has kept farmgate prices lower, which I guess was its aim. Michael Gove would do well to remember that.
The other effect of these payments is all input prices have gone up. Suppliers are not stupid, they know they can put up prices while farmers are getting these payments and they know how much the payments are.
Also land prices and rents have gone up partly due to the payments, so farmers are squeezed from all sides and at the same time housewives can buy milk at £1.20 or less for 4 pints, which has to be the bargain of the century.
If Michael Gove abolishes the payments, inputs will go down in price, land prices and rents will go down and farmgate prices will go up for sure.
The housewife will have to pay a more realistic price for milk, but at least she will have plenty of environment to look at.
Also, if more money goes into stewardship schemes, how will it be administered? We have just this week had confirmation that our application for a catchment sensitive grant from Defra has been successful.
The application went in the second week of September, and the scheme started on Jan 1 2018, so we have lost over six months in which to get the work done.
What a joke.