Future farm support should be separated from land ownership, with stricter regulation introduced to ensure farmers get a fairer return from the supply chain.
Those are two of the demands in a new post-Brexit policy document, prepared by the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA) and presented to Defra in London on Friday (21 April).
Representing small family farmers, the LWA says its vision is for enhanced food security, produced by “a vibrant mixture of independent small and medium farms, looking after our landscapes and communities while producing the food we need”.
Specifically, the LWA wants Defra to do away with area-based direct payments, which it says disproportionately benefit the largest farmers and landowners.
The introduction in 2013 of a minimum claim area of 5ha had automatically excluded 18,000 smallholders from the support system, it says. “Many of these were active farmers, running viable businesses.”
The report also criticises the current Basic Payment Scheme for being unrelated to productivity. “There is an active farmer clause for the payments, but there is no minimum level of activity and landowners can rent the land out and still claim payments.”
The link between subsidies and land has also seen land prices rise from £2,400/acre in 2004 to £7,000/acre in 2017, making it even harder for new entrants to get into farming, says the LWA.
The LWA’s alternative policy is based on a Whole Farm Management scheme, involving a single application process, with support based on the delivery of environmental, social and economic public goods.
All farmers would be obliged to meet certain basic standards of animal welfare and environmental protection, such as the prevention of nitrate flows into watercourses.
But subsidies would also be available for active farmers for the delivery of additional public goods. These payments would be determined by a points-based system and would be subject to a £150,000 cap.
“The UK’s exit from the Common Agricultural Policy provides the most significant opportunity in a generation to reverse the inequalities of area-based payments and replace them with a truly progressive policy framework,” said LWA policy spokesman Ed Hamer.
“We believe the farm support budget could be targeted much more effectively in providing the research and infrastructure necessary to enable farmers to supply quality produce to local markets.
“This model does not depend on UK consumers paying more for high quality local food. It does, however, depend on more effective regulation to ensure farmers receive a greater share of the food pound.”
LWA policy suggestions
- Scrap area-based direct payments
- Subsidies based on delivery of public goods
- Payments capped at £150,000
- Grant schemes for new entrants, farm improvement and mixed farm conversion
- More support for training, apprenticeships and research
- Special payments for employment in horticulture and dairy
- Tariffs on food imports