East Anglia: Agriculture ‘could be exported out of England’ if 15% subsidy cut imposed warns NFU

St Osyth Farmer Guy Smith

St Osyth Farmer Guy Smith - Credit: Archant

Agriculture could be “exported out of the UK” if cuts to English farmers’ direct subsidies go ahead, sector leaders have warned.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) claims farmers in England will be put at a disadvantage under what it believes are Government plans to reduce direct Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support.

NFU president Peter Kendall has written to MPs to express farmers’ “deep concern and frustration” with reports that government ministers want to cut 15% from English farmers’ CAP payments and transfer the money to the rural development programme.

The CAP deal thrashed out by the European Union earlier this year gives EU nations flexibility to transfer money from ‘Pillar One’ , or direct payments to farmers, to ‘Pillar Two’, which includes environmental schemes and indirect rural development schemes.

The new CAP deal includes some greening of the Pillar One payments.

Under a transfer system called modulation, individual nations can transfer up to the maximum of 15% from one pillar to another as they see fit, and the UK government reportedly favours moving the maximum amount starting from 2014.

St Osyth farmer Guy Smith believes such a move would leave the region’s farmers at a disadvantage.

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“The higher the level of modulation then the more money is taken out of my business,” he said.

“I’m sure an Essex farmer bleating on about loss of EU support will engage very little sympathy from non-farmers, however the knock-on effect of increasing modulation on English farm support is to export farm production out of the UK to EU countries where our competitors receive greater levels of support.

“We have seen significant declines in UK farm production over the last 30 years and it frustrates me that no one in Government seems to ask the question: ‘What will be the impact of our policies when it comes to CAP implementation with regard to UK food self sufficiency?’”

NFU regional director Pamela Forbes said: “Farmers across the East of England recognise the need for environmental protection and management - areas funded through the rural development programme.

“We have set out detailed costings to show how transferring 9% of the money would maintain funding under the rural development programme’s agri-environment schemes and provide an additional £1billion for new activity. By contrast, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) approach appears to be transfer first and spend later. It appears wedded to a 15% transfer with no attempt to explain what the extra money would be spent on and how it would benefit farming businesses.”

Farmer Stephen Rash, of Wortham, near Diss, said he thought the NFU had put over a very strong case for the 9% transfer. He fears the main beneficiaries of the 15% plan will be conservation lobby groups at the expense of farmers.

“The whole thing is unjust,” he said. “It’s going to put us at a distinct disadvantage to the other countries.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “Our existing agri-environment schemes have delivered real benefits to the natural environment and rural economy and we want to build on their success. We are clear that any Pillar Two programmes under the new CAP must prove good value for money.

“We have taken views on how much money should be transferred from Pillar One to Pillar Two and will make an announcement in due course.”