Government plans to phase out direct payments must be fair for all farms regardless of size – rather than targeting larger recipients first, says the NFU.
The union made the recommendation in its response to Defra’s Health and Harmony consultation on proposals to reform farm support after the UK leaves the European Union.
The consultation, which closes on Tuesday (8 May), is seen as a key opportunity for farmers to have their say on shaping the future of agriculture and the countryside.
Future policy and support “should be fair and equitable to all active farm businesses, irrespective of size or system,” says the NFU response.
The government should also provide enough time and certainty for farm businesses to plan their future – as well as opportunities for them to adapt and invest, it adds.
The NFU says a future domestic agricultural policy should seek to maintain a level playing field across the UK and with respect to the UK’s main competitors
Defra wants to replace direct payments with a new system of “public money for public goods” largely based on rewarding farmers who undertake environmental measures.
It has proposed a transition period of five, seven or 10 years – including the gradual phasing out of direct payments, possibly from 2020.
Defra has proposed three ways of phasing out payments – “progressive reductions” for most farmers, a straight cap on the maximum amount received or a combination of the two.
The NFU says future policy should ensure public investment in agriculture promotes productivity, while fairly rewarding environmental delivery and managing market volatility.
And it warns: “Direct payments are currently the most substantial and effective tool that farmers have to mitigate this volatility.
“While farmers in the UK share the aspiration of reducing their reliance on these payments, it should not be arbitrarily pursued without sufficient and robust policy replacements.”
The NFU says direct payments will continue to play a significant role in underpinning the financial viability of many farm businesses in the short to medium term.
And it says any reduction in Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments should be fair and equitable for all farms, rather than focusing on larger recipients.
“In our view this means the same percentage reduction should be applied to all recipients, regardless of claim size,” says the NFU response.
“This redirection of funds must be to the direct benefit of active farmers whose businesses will be striving to manage the impacts of the loss of income resulting from BPS reductions.
“The scale of cuts must be commensurate with the sums needed to fund the alternative programmes and pilots envisaged during the agricultural transition, and no more.”