Direct payments are an essential part of the CAP, but need to be targeted better post-2013, Lib-Dem shadow DEFRA secretary Tim Farron told the NFU annual conference.

“We have to have reform, but we must not throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said, criticising the current government for its anti-direct payments approach in Brussels.

But there was a need to review how single farm payments were distributed, to ensure they went to productive farmers who actually needed them, said Mr Farron.

“At the bottom end of the scale there are claimants who are not really farmers at all,” he said. Some £20m was being spent on getting SFPs to people who were receiving less then £300 each. It was therefore necessary to raise the minimum payment threshold.

But at the other end of the scale some £120m in SFPs were going to the top 350 claimants, many of whom did not need the subsidy at all, he claimed.

Mr Farron did not have a problem with organisations like the Co-op or the National Trust receiving large sums, as the money was funnelled down to their tenants. “But it worries me that we have some farmers including, for example, members of the Royal family receiving significant sums of money that they just don’t need.”