Farmers should continue to receive direct payments for several years longer than currently planned to help them cope with Brexit-related challenges, a leading Conservative MP has said.
Former dairy farmer Neil Parish, who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, told attendees of a CLA event at Conservative Party Conference in Manchester this week that the Government should not set dates for moving to the public money for public goods scheme ‘in concrete’.
He warned Ministers would need to use the flexibility built into the Agriculture Bill to respond to events on the ground when considering the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) phase-out, which is due to begin in 2021.
“We need to wait and see what sort of trade deals we get and what sort of Brexit we get,” he said.
“If we need to delay the plans to phase out the Basic Farm Payment for a couple of years in order to get through where we are, then we should do that.
“At the moment, too many farmers rely on that Basic Farm Payment. If you look at the figures, probably only half of them are profitable without it, so we need to be careful we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Mr Parish’s comments follow calls from the NFU and Tenant Farmers’ Association to rethink the timetable set out to move to the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).
Last month, NFU president Minette Batters said it was ‘unreasonable’ to expect farmers to begin the seven-year transition in 2021 given the delay in passing the Agriculture Bill.
She called for the phase-out to be postponed by at least a year, to run from 2022-2028.
The Labour Party has gone even further, pledging an overhaul of the public money for public goods scheme if it wins power.
Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman said the principle, while important, failed to recognised the value of food production.