A loophole which allows golf clubs, airports and real estate agencies to claim single farm payments could be closed after the European Commission called for a redefinition of ‘active’ farmers.

Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said only landowners who make money through farming should be able to receive financial support under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Speaking at Farm Council meeting in Brussels, Commissioner Ciolos said he wanted to revamp the ‘active’ farmer definition so that member states could draw up ‘negative lists’ of holdings which were not eligible for farm aid

The lists would be in addition to payments being held back from landowners whose CAP payments were less than 5% of their total receipts from non-agricultural activities.

“The existence of ‘sofa farmers’ is not tolerable,” he told farm ministers from across Europe.

“The maintenance of the status-quo on the definition of an active farmer is not an option either.”

UK farm minister Jim Paice said the ‘negative list’ was a much simpler option to the previously tabled plans to define active farming solely on an income test.

“The negative list is the best option,” he told the meeting. “Simplicity is key.”

Commissioner Ciolos said he was open to ideas for a ‘community system’ which ensured payments were aimed at those who actively farmed.

He said he was also resolute in his plans to cap direct support payments for landowners who received over €150 000, despite calls from Mr Paice and other ministers from Poland, Romania and Luxemburg claiming it would have an unequal impact on member states.

“We have to take on board the credibility of direct income support and I intend to remain firm on that point,” Commissioner Ciolos said.

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