Future support for UK farmers
While the detail is still severely lacking, we were given the latest intel around future farming policy. Ultimately, no longer bound by the CAP, we can do what we want when it comes to farm support, but it would be extremely naive to think it’s going to be a bonanza. Not least because the treasury needs to balance the books post-COVID. It’s assumed the UK will drift lower down the ladder in terms of global farm support and sit somewhere below current EU payment levels.
As BPS is gradually phased out over the next four years, it is quite clear that the support landscape to replace this is going to be pretty complex with a raft of schemes set to be introduced alongside ELM. There’s very little detail on these policy developments at the moment, with more information due in the autumn. The consensus is however, to get anywhere near the same sort of money back, a major shift in farming protocol will be required for most farmers. Ultimately, with policy centred around the environment and public money for public goods (which doesn’t include food by the way) even if you configure ELM to replace BPS money, you will sacrifice profitable margin elsewhere. There appears to be few incentives that build environmental management into the commodities that we produce.
Concerns for smaller family farms
The real concerns lie in those sectors which are largely unprofitable without financial support and clearly, it’s the family farms grazing livestock that appear to most at risk. Without BPS, agri-environmental money and diversification income, average farm business income for beef and sheep businesses sits in the red. If these farms, along with the poorer performing farms in other sectors, are unable to navigate the complex new support landscape and transition to more sustainable farming models, then they will disappear. Sadly, this is what is predicted to happen with Andersons data suggesting that by 2030 there will be 11,700 fewer full-time farms.
This is a sobering thought and I whole-heartedly agree with latest comments from Prince Charles in saying that the smaller scale family farms should be at the heart of a sustainable farming future. To allow this, the government must recognise their contribution when refining the detail of future policy.