Defra has made a conscious decision to allow up to a quarter of the UK’s least efficient farms to ‘disappear’, according to an agricultural expert advising the Welsh Government.
Dr Ludivine Petetin, who specialises in food and farming law and works at Cardiff University’s policy department, made the remarks at a Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) meeting this week.
Asked if it would be possible to maintain farm profitability under a public money for public goods system of support, Dr Petetin said: “A lot of farms are currently profitable only because of direct payments coming from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
“From reading the agriculture consultation, it seems to me, and this is going to sound harsh, Defra has made a choice that the 25 per cent of farms which are at the bottom and are not doing very well will perhaps disappear.
“I think they are focusing on the 50 per cent in the middle as to how they can turn away from direct payments to environmental payments.”
The farming consultation recently published by Defra said there was ‘clear evidence’ which showed improving productivity would allow farms – on average – to remain profitable after direct payments were abolished.
It suggested farmers could offset the loss of any CAP cash by using inputs more efficiently, investing more efficiently and diversifying.
“It is not going to be easy for farmers to all of a sudden have to be profitable without having direct payments, which is why we will have this transition period”, Dr Petetin said.
“I would also say farmers are really protected by EU tariffs. Once the UK is removed from this bubble, life outside the EU is even worse for farmers because of price volatility.
“The price of commodities changes on a daily basis, which is not reflected as much within the EU because of the protective bubble. UK farmers are going to have to compete and it is going to be very harsh.”
A Defra spokesman said: “We have launched a consultation on agriculture which sets out an ambitious and positive future for farming.
“Our proposals will see money redirected from direct payments based only on the amount of land farmed to a new system of rewarding farms of all sizes for their work to enhance the environment.
“We encourage all interested parties and farmers to have their say before the consultation closes on May 8.”