British farmers could see direct payments slashed by one third if the UK government gets its way on CAP reform, it has emerged.

Plans outlined by UK negotiators in Brussels would see individual countries allowed to reduce direct payments by as much as 20%.

The figure is on top of European Commission proposals that would see 10% of direct payments permanently transferred towards rural development.

The net effect could see payments to UK farmers reduced by 30%, warned Gail Soutar, the NFU’s senior CAP and international affairs advisor.

In England, direct payments for 2012 are already reduced by 19% so the 30% plan represents a significant further cut.

Describing the proposals as grossly unfair, Ms Soutar said English farmers would be left at a distinct disadvantage if the UK got its way.

A German farmer in Schleswig-Holstein, for example, would receive a payment 56% higher than a similar farmer in East Anglia, she suggested.

This was despite both farmers having comparable costs of production and farming within the same single European market.

The plan has been condemned in a joint statement issued by UK farm leaders on Tuesday (24 April).

It was signed by NFU president Peter Kendall, NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller, NFU Cymru president Ed Bailey and Ulster Farmers’ Union president John Thompson.

“UK ministers are seeking to engineer ways to cut direct payments while other governments are looking for ways to increase them to their farmers through reverse modulation,” it said.

“We know that money is going to be tight in this next CAP and we recognise that it is inappropriate to argue for more money to be spent on direct payments at this time.”

The fundamental problem to be addressed was not the level of support payments to UK farmers, but the inadequate allocation received by the UK, said the statement.

“Government ministers in Westminster have repeatedly said that they want “fairness” in the next CAP; fairness for taxpayers, fairness for the environment and fairness for farmers.

“The average payment in the UK is already below the 90% EU average payment and efforts to further reduce payments will only serve to exacerbate the disadvantage.

“This is nothing less than a blatant attempt by the UK Government to disadvantage our farmers through unilateral national action for deeper and faster cuts.”

Ministers had a choice to argue for fairness for all European farmers and to make concerted efforts to secure a more balanced allocation of rural development money, the statement said.

“Unfortunately it seems that our ministers are focusing their efforts on ways to reduce Treasury spend on rural development measures.

“We sincerely hope that ministers realise that this is totally unacceptable to the farming community and is a clear signal of intent to disadvantage UK farmers.”

A Defra spokesperson said:

“We have always made it clear that there should be a shift of funds from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2, which is better targeted at public goods.

“We want to see this across the whole of the EU, but we have to ensure that we have sufficient funds in the UK to continue our environmental schemes and to promote innovation and competitiveness.

“Because we do not know the likely allocation of Pillar 2 funds to the UK and because of the uncertainties on the outcome of greening proposals we need the flexibility to transfer funds if necessary.”