The ‘vast majority’ of farms in England will survive the withdrawal of direct payments, Defra’s director general for food and farming, David Kennedy, has said.
Mr Kennedy admitted it was inevitable that there would be some ‘restructuring’ as a result of the department’s post-Brexit policy changes, but claimed the seven-year transition would help most farmers adapt to the new world.
In 2018, agricultural academic Dr Ludivine Petetin warned a quarter of England’s least efficient farms would go bust as a result of Defra’s plans.
But speaking to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee this week (June 16), Mr Kennedy suggested all the department’s analysis showed most farms would be able to survive, even though the amount of money they receive is likely to fall.
He claimed farmers who benchmark and take advantage of new productivity grants and knowledge sharing could ‘improve their bottom line significantly’.
“We will ask farmers to do more to get the money, but they will be able to do that because productivity will go up,” he said.
“That combination of productivity and getting paid for doing the right thing for the environment, we think, and our analysis says, gives a business model which is viable for the vast majority of farms which currently exist.
“Inevitably, when you have big change in an industry, there will be some restructuring, and we are thinking about how we can make that as painless as possible.
“We will have more to say about that over the next few months, but we are not intending this is a fundamental exit of all the farms at the moment.”
Mr Kennedy went on to say the Prince’s Countryside Fund Resilience Programme, which offers free business skills training to family farms, had shown even ‘harder to reach’ older farmers who are not connected to the internet could significantly improve with the right support.
More detail about how direct payments will be cut beyond 2021 will be published by Defra in September.