By Isabel Davies

THREE-QUARTERS of farmers fear the publication of support payments will damage farming”s reputation, according to a poll on FWi.

Producers fear a stream of media articles about the level of support received by some farmers in England could cause a backlash.

Most of the national newspapers carried articles on Wed (Mar 23) naming the individuals and companies who received the highest level of support over the past two years.

Headlines included “Named: the farmers who make hay by handouts” and “Rich landowners scoop up crock of gold from EU”.

The articles claimed that there was a need for further debate about support payments, because it appeared that the main beneficiaries of the CAP were large agri-businesses and wealthy landowners.

Stuart Agnew, a cereal, sheep and poultry farmer from Fakenham, Norfolk, said he would have much preferred payment details to remain confidential.

The details were published on Tues (Mar 22) by the Rural Payments Agency under the Freedom of Information Act.

“It isn”t good for agriculture for the national press to publicise certain individual”s payments,” said Mr Agnew. “The point that won”t be made is, if we didn”t get this money, then the price of food would go up.” But Essex farmer Guy Smith said he thought all the opposition and outrage at DEFRA”s decision was misguided, as it made the industry look secretive.

Mr Smith said he was not ashamed to admit that he received about 97,000/yr in support payments. “I am more than happy justifying it, I like to think that if I couldn”t justify it I wouldn”t take it.

“By objecting to the inevitable disclosure of this information, we are managing to get ourselves the worst of both worlds. Yet again agriculture is shooting itself in the PR foot,” he said.

“Given the inevitability of these payments being on the public record after the Freedom of Information act was passed, it is daft to raise objections. It makes us appear embarrassed at having this information exposed.”

Mr Smith said the industry had to get used to transparency, as the only way the single farm payment could be justified was to show farmers were delivering environmental and social goods.

“To prove it is an honest bargain we are going to have to be open about both sides of the deal.”

isabel.davies@rbi.co.uk