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Farmers in Devon and Cornwall 'facing green penalty'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 03, 2013

By Graeme Demianyk, WMN London Editor, Twitter: @graemedemianyk

Comments (7)

MPs have warned lavishing controversial EU agriculture subsidies on environmentally friendly farming risks exposing the industry to "shocks" caused by poor weather and price vulnerability.

The Government wants to transfer 15% of direct farm payments given to all farmers – based on acreage – to environmental and rural development measures such as building dry stone walls and creating wildlife habitats.

But the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee of MPs has warned this will "penalise" British farmers when £20 billion of subsidy is dished out over seven years. Its report on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), published today, says the fact the UK will get less money between 2014 and 2020 than it does now – while France and Italy will see their allocations increase – is compounded by the greater emphasis on "green" farming.

Committee chairman Anne McIntosh MP said the Government should maintain the current 9% rate of transfer away from direct payments. She said: "The Government needs to recognise that cutting payments to these businesses will reduce their ability to compete in the marketplace, will leave farmers less able to invest in vital infrastructure and may make them more vulnerable to shocks such as poor weather, higher input costs and price variations."

Ministers have defended plans to make the full 15% transfer to the environmental "pillar 2" budget as taxpayers want to see more value for their money by boosting jobs or maintaining the country-side. But farmers argue that direct payments – needed to invest in vital equipment such as tractors – ensure they are producing food amid global shortages and fears over food security.

The committee – which includes Tory MPs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) and Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) – says a 15% transfer should be considered two years in only if there is clear benefit from the "green" projects proposed.

The MPs were also critical of plans to ditch paper-based applications – and install a new computer system – when administering the payments.

They are alarmed by the move to "digital by default" given that many farmers have to cope with slow or limited internet connections in the countryside.

Westcountry farmers had hoped they had seen the end of late payment of grants, which pushed many into hardship, after the Government finally got to grips with the hapless Rural Payments Agency.

Ms McIntosh said: "Farmers know from bitter past experience that the development of the new IT system will be a stand-out challenge for Government. A lot went wrong in the last round of changes, and these problems gave rise to £580 million in penalties.

"With that in mind, we question whether it makes sense to introduce a new computer system at the same time as complex new payment rules.

"Forcing people to engage digitally when they may well lack adequate broadband or the knowledge required could undermine successful implementation of the new scheme.

"We support the Government's ambition to encourage and support as many people as possible to apply online, but people who need to must be able to get hold of the complicated guidance and apply on paper too."

National Farmers' Union President Peter Kendall welcomed the report, given that "up and down the country farmers are concerned".

He said: "A perfect storm of new rules, a new IT system and a dearth of detailed rules is brewing on the horizon.

"Efra is correct to challenge the Government now, while policy details are still being worked out, to ensure that English farmers are not left disadvantaged."

A Defra spokesman said: "We want to target Common Agricultural Policy funding in ways that will deliver real benefits to the environment, boost the competitiveness of our farming industry and grow the rural economy.

"We will consider the views from the Efra Select Committee and give our formal response in due course."

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  • josdave  |  December 03 2013, 8:37PM

    I would suggest that, due to the terrain they work in, farmers need 4WD vehicles which is more than can be said for those that clog up the areas around schools twice a day.

    Rate   -2
  • bullocks400  |  December 03 2013, 6:55PM

    That is a fair report Graeme. The comments reflect the usual farmer haters out there, still, can't educate pork. The debate about subsidising farming is another issue, this report is on the subject of frittering even more money on the environmental 'terrorists'. Be in no doubt, the lobbying and pressure from, what has become a very well coordinated and organised body, has more to do with self interest than with the environment. Best value is to leave any money in the hands of the farmers who understand the land. They can care for the environment as they always have, especially if they are in profit. Transfer 15% of direct payments into pillar 2 and the majority of that money will end up as over generous wages/salaries and not to directly help the environment. I thought this government was supposed to be reducing useless and non productive jobs? The sniping at farmers for using 4x4 vehicles is pathetic. Have a look at the expensive logo covered uniforms worn by the wildlife trust employees and their swanky expensive vehicles. Environmental groups, organisations, etc are the new gravy train. Lets hope it soon gets derailed.

    Rate   -2
  • D-Head  |  December 03 2013, 5:56PM

    I don't know where John Bull hangs out but it is the same situation where I live. The farmers all have new vehicles on the farm and they and their wives are in 4WDs. At some £85 an acre single farm payment I don't see how any of them can claim to be poor.

    Rate   1
  • leolegrande  |  December 03 2013, 4:35PM

    John Bull I don't know what sort of farmers you associate with, but they are certainly not the farmers that I know. I, and my family are Living on the breadline as small farmers. Once or twice this year I have been on the verge of asking for help to pay for the feed for my animals. More than once I have considered seeking out a Food Bank as things were getting so desperate. I drive round in an "L" registered Ford 4x4 which needs a new exhaust and tyres (I can't afford them") and my 4 sons will be doing without this christmas. I am not complaining, this is the life I chose, I only mention it because some people like yourself look at the large landowning farmers and believe that every other farmer must be in exactly the same financial bracket, the majority of us are not.

    Rate   -3
  • josdave  |  December 03 2013, 3:32PM

    As if it was not bad enough with "developers" covering green land in concrete we are now paying farmers to let land capable of producing much needed food stand idle.

    Rate   -2
  • Barri  |  December 03 2013, 11:52AM

    Food Security concerns are a myth - with all the food that is thrown away and rising obesity. What we so need is protected wilderness, where wildlife can flourish and is not subject to Farming development which escapes Environmental Impact Assessments, as seen in the murder of innocent Badgers. Pay Farming to do nothing - they could certainly do with a rest.

    Rate   -3
  • John Bull Design Ltd  |  December 03 2013, 10:14AM

    Oh, I feel so sorry for the farmers, don't you? They struggle round in their beaten up old tractors which have been chugging on since the 60s. Their children are all at impoverished local state schools, and they can hardly afford to keep their gamekeepers and stables going. Wonder how they'd get on in the real world?

    Rate   -7