The Labour Party has pledged to overhaul the ‘public money for public goods’ scheme set out in the Agriculture Bill if it wins power.
Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman said the principle, while vital, ignored the importance of food production.
She also suggested there was a danger that farmers who were not eligible for funding for environmental work would move to intensive farming models, which are more damaging to nature, in order to chase higher profits.
“We have a very large population in this country which needs feeding,” she told a CLA event at the Labour Conference in Brighton this week.
“If farmers do not produce sufficient food, that means we are importing more food and that is not good for the environment.
“What we have said all along is we need a proper balance between support for the environment and support for farmers to farm in sustainable ways.”
Shadow Farming Minister David Drew also pointed out farmers tended to earn low wages, and from a social justice point of view would need to be supported with more than just environmental payments after Brexit.
Speaking at a separate NFU fringe event at the conference, he said: “There are a lot of farmers who fare very badly, but they stick at it because they love doing it and they do not want to leave.
“We need to help those people. That is why I am not convinced we can just go completely to environmental payments.”
The shift away from the public money for public goods approach has been criticised by environmental groups, with executive director of the Green Alliance Shaun Spiers claiming the Labour Party could not be ‘serious about the ecological crisis’ if part of the £3bn annual agriculture budget was going to be spent ‘propping up farming to produce food’.
Speaking at a Countryside Alliance conference meeting, he said: “We have a crisis of food poverty, we have poor diet, we have all sorts of issues with food which are hugely important, but do not raid the £3bn to address that.
“The £3bn is needed to restore nature, that is fundamental.”