Farmers cannot afford to lose half their BPS income over the next four years. Government must maintain current farm payments until the new ELM scheme is rolled out in full to protect the future of family farming, says Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.
The announcement of a trade deal with the European Union over the Christmas period will have been met with much relief by farmers up and down the country.
Whatever your view on the EU or Brexit, the importance of access to our farmers’ number one export market cannot be overstated.
At a massively uncertain and chaotic time, the last thing our farmers needed was huge tariffs imposed on lamb, beef and other produce.
But while this deal does deliver free trade, it sadly does not deliver frictionless trade.
Farming businesses now face a mountain of red tape and bureaucracy and were given no time at all to prepare for it.
However, I fear that this bad deal will end up being the least of farmer’s worries when it comes to the Government’s post-Brexit plans for agriculture.
The Conservative Government’s consistent efforts to vote down amendments in both the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill to protect UK food and farming standards in future trade negotiations should set alarm bells ringing as they look to make deals with the rest of the world.
I’m very worried that the Government seem perfectly willing to sell out our farmers in these trade deals and let the UK be flooded with poor quality food imports that undercuts the food that British farmers produce to high environmental and animal welfare standards.
This week, my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the House of Lords successfully managed to help to pass an amendment to the Trade Bill to protect those standards, so the fight is very much far from over.
Even more concerning though, is the Government’s plans to replace the Basic Payment Scheme with the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.
Reports indicate that farmers are expected to lose half their current payments over the next four years.
Meanwhile the ELM scheme will not be fully rolled out until 2028.
This phase-out plan risks driving many small family farmers - the foundational unit that makes British farming the best in the world - out of businesses or opting for retirement.
Losing half of their money would be deeply concerning for any business, not least for businesses that provide the food for our table.
I’ve set up a cross-party campaign with Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative colleagues, to urge the Defra Secretary to maintain the current farm payments until the new scheme is rolled out in full to protect the future of family farming.
Tim can be found tweeting at @timfarron