Defra hits back at accusations over farm support budget

Defra has rejected claims in a national newspaper that farmers in England now receive substantially less government support in farm payments than they did before Brexit.

An article in The Observer published on Sunday 12 February claimed that farm businesses received “only a tiny fraction of slashed EU subsidies” last year, adding that farms “risked going out of business”.

The article said data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which administers and processes farm payments, shows that £10.7m was paid out under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) in the 2022 calendar year.

See also: Analysis: What Defra’s ELM update means for farmers

This meant that only 0.44% of the total budget for England – about £2.4bn – was spent on the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes.

In response to the article, a Defra blog said suggestions that farmers were now paid less than 0.5% of the budget they received before Brexit were “inaccurate”.

The Conservative government committed in its election manifesto to fund farming to the same level (£2.4bn a year) for the lifetime of this parliament – and Defra said the full amount was continuing to be paid.

A Defra spokesman said: “As direct payments are phased out, we are reinvesting the full £2.4bn into the farming sector each year throughout this parliament, through SFI, our other environmental land management schemes, and one-off grants.

“A small degree of underspend in 2021-22 has been made available for schemes in 2022-23.”

CS payments uplift

The blog explained that in the 2021-22 financial year, the RPA paid out £1.65bn in direct support to farmers under the Agricultural Transition Plan.

Farmers also received £109m under Countryside Stewardship and £11m from the Farming in Protected Landscapes fund.

There were also many other initiatives and one-off grants “to ensure sustainable food production can go hand in hand with protecting the environment”, Defra said.

It said more than 2,000 farmers were signed up to the SFI, which opened last July as a pilot.

But it is expanding the SFI payments offer this year with the introduction of six new standards – with more to come in 2024 and 2025, “to ensure there is something on offer for every farmer”.

Much more of the budget will be allocated to SFI as farmer sign-ups increase.

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