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NFU President Criticises England's Post-Brexit Farming Subsidy Scheme

The president of the National Farmers Union has expressed significant concerns over the post-Brexit farming subsidy scheme in England, stating that it has not improved upon the previous EU system and continues to disproportionately benefit large landowners.

Minette Batters, who is set to resign from her role at the NFU in February, conveyed her disapproval in a discussion with the Financial Times. She highlighted that since the UK's decision to leave the EU in 2016, the agricultural policy has been managed by seven different environment secretaries, leading to a lack of consistency and effectiveness.

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy was often criticised for favouring large landowners, and Brexit was seen as a chance to reform the payment system. However, the new Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) in England have been slow to roll out and have drawn criticism for prioritising environmental concerns over food production.

Batters emphasised the current challenges, stating, “The focus at the moment is on growing a crop for the environment and not producing food...I think that’s going to be really hard with the cost of living crisis.” She added that with increasing concerns over food security, the government's failure to create a more equitable system is apparent. “Large landowners effectively living off the state is not going to wash going forward,” she remarked.

The new scheme, while different from the EU system in its approach of awarding funding for environmental actions, still bases payments on land area. This means that farmers with more land can secure more funds.

The phasing out of the EU Basic Payment Scheme has resulted in reduced payments for many farmers, and the uptake of the Sustainable Farming Incentive under ELMs has been low.

Batters, reflecting on the EU subsidies, said, “Whether you liked it or not, it was the only way for us to manage our risk.”

The EU-style payments are being gradually reduced from 2021 to 2027, with the new schemes focusing on rewarding environmentally friendly and sustainable farming practices.

Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, in a recent interview with the FT, mentioned that while Labour wouldn't completely overhaul the system, improvements are necessary. “If we want to incentivise landowners and farmers to behave in certain ways, and they had compensation for that previously, then they need that compensation to continue,” he stated.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has shown more support for ELMs, though it acknowledges the challenges. CLA president Victoria Vyvyan said, “We have taken agriculture home for the first time in 40 years...It’s obviously going to be difficult and complicated...but the general direction is good and productive.”

Ahead of the next general election, the NFU is urging all parties to commit to domestic production targets to provide security for farmers facing high production costs and significant policy changes. The NFU suggests that the government should set and report on food production targets similarly to environmental targets, highlighting the importance of food security for voters.


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