A senior Defra official was asked to re-examine future payment systems for farmers as he spoke at the National Beef Expo at the Darlington Farmers Auction Mart.
John Powell, head of the department’s agricultural sectors team, was on the panel for a seminar on the future of farming support, where he gave a presentation outlining the government’s plans.
He described the overarching goal as “creating a thriving agricultural sector and rewarding farmers for decisions that benefit the environment”.
During the question-and-answer session at the end of the seminar, several speakers said that they were seriously concerned about a significant gap between the current level of payments and what they could receive in the future under the Sustainable Agriculture Incentive (SFI).
Mr Powell said the intention was that ‘farmers shouldn’t be worse off’, but one farmer compared Defra’s approach to a juggernaut following its satellite navigation down a narrow, bumpy road, ignoring signs signs and “not looking at the road ahead”. He argued that the government “should reverse this whole process” for the sake of food production.
Tim Sedgwick of H&H Land Estates said an SFI pilot farm was actually worse when payment rates were calculated, and that it would be best to stay out of SFI altogether.
Neil Wilson, from the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, said his organization was trying to push back against the new payment structure. “There is growing evidence that these programs are going to see farmers exit the industry,” he said.
“We are going to see a significant amount of livestock carried over. We have looked at 30 to 35 cases, the majority coming from the livestock sector. All of them, the advice has been that your reduction in the single farm payment will only be in no cases clawed back by SFI or capital grants. Sorry, but the advice has to be to put your cattle off. This is a really worrying situation for many, many farmers, especially in ranching areas. You must have the proof. I would like to know how you take this proof on board?”
Mr Powell said the programs are still being developed and Defra is “working with farmers on the ground to feed back the information”.