Defra secretary Michael Gove has suggested there will be no cap on the environmental payments that can be earned by farmers after the UK leaves the European Union.
Speaking during a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference, Mr Gove said farmers who undertook environmental enhancements for the public good should be properly rewarded.
“My initial view, although obviously we will want to consult on this, is that BPS payments should be capped and the money should go back into agriculture and farming.
“But what I wouldn’t want to do is cap the amount of money that people can receive for genuine environmental enhancement.
“If you can demonstrate that you are delivering a public good like environmental enhancement then you should be paid for that on the basis that it is a legitimate service that you provide.”
Justifying his belief that direct payments should be capped, Mr Gove said it would be wrong to give public money to landowners simply for owning land.
“What we shouldn’t have is a system that simply rewards people for the size of their agricultural land holding,” he said.
But future government support to farmers would not be based entirely on environmental payments, Mr Gove told the fringe meeting, organised by the NFU and the Food and Drink Federation.
Hill farming, for example, was integral to the broader rural economy and ecology of the uplands – especially in mid-Wales and the Lake District.
The government would take account of this when devising post-Brexit policies to replace the CAP, Mr Gove told listeners at Manchester Town Hall on Monday (2 October).
First, though, there would be a government consultation to ensure there were no unintended consequences and farm businesses weren’t adversely affected.
The government was also keen to see that farmers were better trained – and there would be a review of the land-based education system to ensure it was fit for purpose.
“It is also the case that we need to give some thought to education and technology – we do need to make sure that some of the investment we get is in that area,” said Mr Gove.
For animal health, it was important that some support helped farmers withstand some of the vicissitudes that agriculture inevitably faced.
These included viruses, infections and disease outbreaks, said Mr Gove. “There are challenges that you face in farming that you don’t face in other industries or other businesses.”
The new system needed to take account of all these circumstances, he said.