Farmers are eagerly awaiting more details from the government on impending changes to their subsidy payments, with many reluctant to trust the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ( Defra) to manage the transition, the head of one of the UK’s largest farming organizations mentioned.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Well, we have no idea what Defra is doing at all,'” Mark Tufnell, the recently installed president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), told the Guardian. “[They say:] “We don’t think Defra knows what they’re doing,” and we ask, “What do you know? “
The CLA represents around 28,000 farmers and rural business owners in England and Wales, including some of the larger landowners and many of the smaller ones, with around 18,000 members cultivating less than 300 acres. Members hope to get more details on post-Brexit support for farmers at the organization’s conference on Thursday, where Environment Secretary George Eustice will explain what support farmers can expect when making their farm payments base are reduced by 5 to 25%. this year before being completely phased out over the next six years.
Further details of the government’s plans might not come soon enough for farmers, Tufnell said. Brexit was one of the biggest upheavals in agriculture since the corn laws were repealed in 1846, he noted. “And of course, after the corn law was repealed, we then went into an agricultural depression that lasted from the late 1800s to the 1900s and the war period.”
Brexit means the UK has left the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, under which farmers received around £ 3 billion a year in payments allocated based on the amount of land they cultivated. In the future, there will be payments of “public money for public goods” – that is, farmers will take action to restore nature, nourish the soil, improve the quality of the land. ‘air and water and provide habitat for wildlife, in return for taxpayer-funded support under an Environmental Land Management Contract System, or ELM.
Tufnell said the future of agriculture was more in government hands than ever, with trade deals, issues with the planning system and the new ELM system. “We may end up with more people claiming a limited pot, which means the individual will end up receiving less,” he said.
Farmers are generally in favor of adopting a new payment system. CLA’s member surveys found most farmers in favor, but many are still concerned about the details, as little information is available on how ELMs work.
The base payment will be reduced on a sliding scale, those who have historically received the most income will experience the largest cuts, but even the smallest scale of cuts of around 5% this year would cause hardship for many. people, according to Tufnell.
There are other huge risks if the government gets it wrong over the next few years as old subsidies are phased out, he says. “If the government does not offer the kind of support it talks about … it makes it much more difficult for the farmers who are in the least profitable category, the 25% or even the poorest 50%, who receive their payments. basic. cut, so they’ll only get about 25% of what they originally had.
“They will have great difficulty in continuing their agricultural activity. They will have to look for other sources of income and I think they will find that quite difficult, especially if they do not get help to sell their product overseas.
Another bone of contention is trade agreements. Until recently, the UK only had two agri-food attachés in embassies around the world to promote British agriculture and agricultural products, even though food is one of the largest export industries in goods from the UK and that the government aims to secure trade deals with dozens of countries in the aftermath of Brexit.
On Tuesday, Defra announced that eight other agri-food attachés would be appointed. Tufnell said the increase was far too small to provide the necessary representation. Farmers fear they will be inundated with cheap food from overseas under new trade deals – like the one struck this year with Australia – the details of which are signed in secret, without parliamentary scrutiny.
At least the farmers were hoping the government would help them promote British farm produce abroad, but with just 10 worldwide, that seems difficult to achieve, Tufnell says. “Ten ties is far from enough. If the government is serious about promoting our world class products and ensuring that UK farmers are not underestimated then we need a lot more. Understandably, the government wants to promote its free trade credentials, but seems reluctant to provide adequate resources to do the job properly. This leaves not only UK farmers, but the entire UK industry vulnerable. “
Higher prices for many staples, from wheat and barley to rapeseed, beef and lamb, would cushion the blow for many this year at least, Tufnell said. But some sectors would suffer more, he said, such as pig farmers, many of whom were unable to send animals to slaughter due to labor shortages last month, a topic on which jokes Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Brexit also caused supply and export problems with Europe. Tufnell said he had run into problems trying to export flaxseed to Belgium, as trucks would normally have passed through France, but it would have involved even more paperwork. Eventually he was sent by boat.
Covid has also brought rural infrastructure to the fore, with more and more people trying to work from home or considering a permanent move to the countryside, but hampered by the lack of broadband connectivity. “There is this great disparity between the urban and the rural [in connectivity]”he said, noting that the fine print in the autumn budget showed rural areas were losing around £ 315million in the shared prosperity fund for leveling.
“We don’t really think this is an upgrade schedule – it’s almost a downgrade. “