The days of old area payments are numbered, but any post-Brexit agriculture scheme must allow the majority of farms to benefit through an average baseline payment, says chief executive of the National Sheep Association Phil Stocker.
Jeremy Hunt’s recent theatre with the media just about sums up where we are with Brexit.
One day the Foreign Secretary gives a sincere interview explaining how no deal would be regrettable for us and the worst outcome possible, then overnight he miraculously has a change of heart and comes out to say we would be fine and it would be the EU that would regret it.
We’re supposed to be negotiating with the EU, but there still seems to be more negotiating here at home.
It can’t be easy – in fact it must be nigh on impossible – to have a Cabinet which is so violently split and then be asked to negotiate with the EU, even though you know you are incapable of deviating at all from your plan which was so difficult to agree at Chequers.
Since the recess and the presentation of the UK Government’s White Paper to the EU, things have felt relatively quiet, but Ministers have been out and about trying to get individual EU nations on side, and, although mostly unseen, our civil servants in Defra and the Department for International Trade have been very busy doing what they can to prepare for any eventuality.
So, on trade, still nothing to report – we do not know what the future relationship will look like.
Where progress is being made is on the preparation of our domestic agriculture policy. The English Health and Harmony consultation closed some time ago and is now being crafted into the first draft of the Agriculture Bill, expected in the autumn.
There are significant differences between all four positions and it must be remembered that without a ‘common framework’ which is considered fair and level, we could see internal trade disruption – something that is unthinkable.
Significantly, England and Wales are ruling out the continuation of direct payments beyond transition, whereas Scotland is planning to continue until 2024 at least, and want to go further too.
A common theme in all nations is capital and efficiency-type schemes.
There is varying recognition of the value of productive agriculture, and England and Wales suggest payments for delivery of public goods, but the battle is not won at all on food production and food security being a public good.
It is clear we have a lot more work to do.
Many of our farming politicians, Defra Secretary Michael Gove included, have stated that public support to farmers had to be more explainable and justifiable.
It was suggested there was no reason why budgets and payments might be less – in some cases they could even be more – but we had to be clear what they were for and the public had to benefit from their investment.
It was also accepted that farmers were already providing multiple public goods.
If there was any singling out of cases where payments weren’t justified, it was to highly wealthy landowners who were doing more for personal interest than the public interest.
If a new public goods model is going to work for British farming, then the interpretation of public goods needs to be far wider than just environment and access – and there needs to be a simple model which would allow the majority of everyday farms to benefit, not having to do any more than most are doing already.
Maybe the days of the basic payment, or a direct payment of the design paid now are numbered, and many would welcome this.
But an average baseline payment in recognition of the broad public value of productive farming, that can be further built on via optional schemes, is surely in the long-term interest of society in Britain.