£55m paid in EU subsidies to farmers
By Ted JeoryFARMERS in Essex were paid more than £55million in European subsidies in just one year, it has been revealed.Figures released by the Rural Payments Agency showed 1,717 farms in the county received payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2003/4, the latest year for which audited numbers are available.
By Ted Jeory
FARMERS in Essex were paid more than £55million in European subsidies in just one year, it has been revealed.
Figures released by the Rural Payments Agency showed 1,717 farms in the county received payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2003/4, the latest year for which audited numbers are available.
Farmers said the handouts were vital for their businesses, but Bernard Jenkin, Essex North MP, described the amounts as “shocking”.
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He renewed Conservative calls for reform of the CAP system, which he claimed was driving Third World farmers out of business.
The county's two biggest beneficiaries of European subsidies were farms owned by relatives of Mr Jenkin's wife.
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Hatfield Peverel-based Strutt and Parker (Farms) Ltd - owned by relatives of Mr Jenkin's wife, Anne - was paid £1.6million, largely for keeping up to 10% of arable land on its 5,900-acre estate idle.
Lord Rayleigh's Farms Ltd, which is based in Terling and is run by Mrs Jenkin's brother, Lord Rayleigh, received more than £618,000 under the scheme.
A spokesman for Strutt and Parker (Farms) Ltd declined to comment and Lord Rayleigh's Farms Ltd could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
Other recipients included the farm run by Robert Davidson, deputy leader of Colchester Borough Council.
Records provided by the Rural Payments Agency, which is part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), showed R Davidson and Son farm in Peldon was paid £116,076 in the year.
Mr Davidson criticised Defra for making the figures public, but strongly defended the payments to farmers.
“When we applied for the subsidies, we were told that the data would be confidential - we had no idea that it would be made public,” he said.
“Although the farm payments scheme is a voluntary one, I don't know of any farmer in Essex who does not take part in it.
“We have to, simply out of economic necessity - we can't afford not to. Research has shown that most farming is not profitable.
“The money goes towards sustaining employment, making our countryside look as beautiful as it does and of course a reliable system of food production, so the public gets the benefits. The scheme also reduces the EU food mountain.”
John Sawdon, of Peldon Hall farm in Peldon, said the £227,749 that he received for his 2,500-acre wheat business did “look rather large”.
But he added: “Ours was particularly high that year due to extenuating circumstances.
“We're heavily into environmental schemes and what people have to remember is that there are many people like doctors, nurses, police and civil servants who are also paid by the taxpayer. Ours is a complex industry.”
Mr Jenkin said: “£55m is a shocking amount. We're very concerned about the viability of the whole system - the CAP has always been mad. It has created huge food surpluses and drives Third World farmers out of business.
“We've been arguing for a long time now that agriculture should be brought back under national control rather than left to the EU.”
The £55.3m paid to Essex farmers in 2003/4 represented a little more than 3% of the £1.7billion paid out in the UK in that EU financial year, which runs from October to October.
CAP farm-based payments are awarded for a number of reasons, including per head of livestock, setting aside arable land, and environmental projects.
The records showed Essex Wildlife Trust was paid £171,450, Colchester Borough Council £14,700, Tendring District Council £10,353 and Essex County Council £30,349.
A spokeswoman for the Rural Protection Agency said it had decided it was in the public interest to release details of individual CAP payments.