Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has accused the Treasury of plotting to cut payments to farmers under the guise of environmentalism.
Mr Ewing warned the decision not to recognise food production as a ‘public good’ would leave farmers out of pocket and threaten food security.
UK Ministers have insisted farmers in England may have an opportunity to increase the amount of support they receive under the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, despite the slashing of direct payments.
Speaking during the opening session of the online Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Ewing said: “My real worry is I think the Treasury is intent on removing payments for farmers under the guise of having environmental payments.
“Unless this is looked at again, we will see the demise of payments for farmers over time. I do not think that is an overly cynical view, it is already happening.”
Mr Ewing also set apart the Scottish Government’s position on direct support from Westminster’s, repeating his earlier comments at AgriScot that Basic Payments were ‘earned income’.
“The main difference [between Scotland and England] is this idea which developed down south that payment should be for public goods,” he said.
“That has a certain resonance, but the trouble is my understanding is producing food does not constitute a public good and I find it very hard to agree with this concept.
“Producing high-quality food is necessary for a country to be secure, to provide our own food supply in a very uncertain world and to make sure we continue to produce high-quality protein through livestock farming.”
Defra has repeatedly refused to recognise food production as a public good because food is a product which farmers are already rewarded for by the market.
But Defra Secretary George Eustice denied that diverging agriculture policies and support across the UK would lead to any problems.
He said: “We are going to work together as a family of UK nations, co-ordinating our policy, sharing best practice, sharing ideas which work and sharing our experiences when things do not work.
“I think that will give some coherence to UK agriculture policy.”