UK post-Brexit farm payments overhaul fueled by ‘blind optimism’

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The UK government has established no way to measure whether £ 2.4bn in annual post-Brexit farm payments will deliver value for money and is not supporting UK farmers facing major subsidy cuts in the way of the EU, according to a damning report from Parliament. audit committee.

The Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has repeatedly missed its own planned steps to unveil the new green payments system, according to the report released on Sunday.

He added that the department admitted that, without further details, its own confidence in the program might come across as “mere blind optimism when it comes to farmers.”

The committee’s report, chaired by Labor MP Meg Hillier, follows a series of announcements about the Environmental Land Management (ELM) program, which Boris Johnson’s government is introducing in England to replace the Common Agricultural Policy of the ‘EU.

Ministers made plans for three tranches of the program based on payments for environmental work, but farmer groups have become increasingly outspoken about concerns over the lack of details.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Conservative MP who serves as vice-chair of the committee, said: ‘We know we have been replacing the CAP since 2016 and we still don’t see clear plans, targets or communications with those at the forefront – the farmers – in this billion pounds, a radical overhaul of land use and, more importantly, food production in this country.

“Farmers… Have been left in the dark and it is simply not true that Defra’s own failures in business planning strike to undermine crucial certainty for a critical national sector.

He warned that small farms and sharecroppers, which operate on ‘extremely slim’ margins, risked closing their doors during the transition as they made a typical annual net profit of just £ 22,800 per year without subsidies.

This would mean that “the average size of farms will increase and some of the environmental benefits of [the new system] will be lost, ”said Clifton-Brown.

Farmers used to receive so-called direct payments based on land area, but they risk losing half of these by 2024-25 as EU-style subsidies are phased out to prepare for the post-Brexit agenda . Payments represented more than half of farm business income, or net profit, from grains, arable livestock, grazing and mixed farming in 2020-2021, according to official data.

The committee also echoed farmers’ concerns about the potential unintended consequences of the new program – in particular that its incentives to convert farmland to other uses, such as forestry, will lead to increased food imports, ” effectively exporting the ecological impact of the food produced. for British plates.

Defra has not set parameters or targets to ensure that payments deliver value for money or contribute to the country’s goal of achieving ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050, the committee said. .

Without clarity on these goals, “the green Brexit promised by the government seems increasingly out of sight,” said Dustin Benton, policy director of the charity Green Alliance.

George Eustice, Secretary of the Environment, said: “We do not agree with many of the points raised by the committee which do not take into account recent developments.

“Farm incomes have improved dramatically since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and there will never be a better time to improve the way we reward farmers. “

Tom Bradshaw, National Farmers’ Union vice-chairman, said: “Farmers in England are extremely concerned about the development of ELMs and this PAC report should serve as a wake-up call to the government.


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