The future of farm payments is being put under serious pressure by Greenpeace, which has launched a campaign to reform the system following revelations that taxpayers are handing out large amounts of cash to members of the royal family, members of the House of Lords and other wealthy business people.
According to Defra figures, a billionaire Saudi prince, Khalid Abdullah al Saud, is being paid more than £400,000 a year for his farm where he breeds racehorses, despite owning a stallion worth over £100m for breeding.
Other major beneficiaries of CAP payments include Natural England, the National Trust and the RSPB, which together have received over £5.5m.
Greenpeace Chief Scientist Doug Parr said: “The subsidy system is utterly broken. We need public money spent on farming to be offering demonstrable public benefits.”
But Christopher Price, CLA Director of Policy and Advice, defended payments to large estate owners, saying:
“Managing larger tracts of land can make a significant difference to enhancing our natural world because of the scale of operations. Vital environmental objectives such as improving water quality or increasing farmland bird populations require investment, so it is larger landowners who are best placed to provide these benefits for future generations.”
“It is important that we have a post-Brexit policy which works for farmers of all sizes. We need to support smaller farmers in producing supplies of the heathy and delicious food on which we all depend.”
Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom said during the referendum campaign that she would maintain subsidies, but there are no formal guarantees beyond Chancellor Philip Hammond’s promise to pay farmers until 2020. Consultancy Agra Europe has claimed ‘no UK Government would subsidise agriculture on the scale operated under the CAP.’
Earlier UK attempts to reduce payments were met with fierce resistance in EU negotiations, but both Andrea Leadsom and Food and Farming Minister George Eustice are known to want reform of the current system, with Mr Eustice telling a ‘Farmers for Britain’ event in May this year that the existing compliance rules are too complex and they have created a ‘sense of perpetual legal jeopardy in Defra because the smallest decisions carry legal weight’.
He also said most MPs are keen to see the Government continue to support agriculture and went on to outline his preference of a farm area payment which rewards farmers who provide basic environmental outcomes.
NFU Director of Policy Andrew Clark commented:
“What we must remember, in the context of these sorts of reports, is that the average support payment for a dairy farmer, for example, is £25,000 a year while the average monthly running cost of a dairy farm is £40,000 – without taking wages. These farm businesses have roots that run through the rural community and their contribution is significant on both a local and national scale when it comes to the economy.”