Opinion

It’s time to put the value of the Basic Payment into context

I am pretty sick and tired of environmental and conservation groups telling us all that we need farm support measures that take more account of the so-called ‘public good’ when the reality is that we have one of these already in place: It’s called the Basic Payment Scheme.

The coming weeks will see groups of Government inspectors checking UK farmers’ compliance with all relevant EU Directives, including the many environmental criteria associated with the ever-evolving Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Over the past 10 years, numerous bespoke environmental and conservation-related criteria have been built into this farm support measure – greening being the most obvious example that comes to mind.

In my opinion, this is actually a good news story for agriculture. Yes, producers do run the risk of receiving basic payment penalties if their bookwork etc is not in order.

But, above all else, cross-compliance and the associated inspection process can be used to show that farmers fully deserve the support monies they get from Brussels.

There is a common misconception that the single farm payment system is simply a backdoor means of subsidising production agriculture. This is absolutely not the case.

De-coupling, broke the link between farm output and the payments received by way of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) back in 2003. So, in effect, farmers in the UK are already being paid to maintain the highest possible environmental standards in the countryside.

The implication of all this is that consumers must be told in the clearest possible terms that their taxes have not been used to prop up a cheap food policy.

And, as custodians of the countryside, farmers can argue in the strongest possible terms for the maintenance of a single payment system – even beyond the introduction of Brexit.

The reality is that we do have a beautiful countryside to enjoy. The landscape all around us today was created by generations of farmers. But it needs to be maintained; the single payment is not ‘money for nothing’, and this is a message which must be communicated to the public at large in the strongest possible terms.

Consumers should also be told that they are currently able to buy food at all-time low prices. This has nothing at all to do with the Basic Payment support mechanism; rather it is a policy driven by the UK and European supermarkets, as they vie to secure the highest possible share of the ‘retail cake’.

This is a policy that must change if the UK wants to maintain a viable agri-food sector into the future.

No one really knows what Brexit will bring in terms of new farm support policies. But it will be imperative for London to ensure that farmers throughout the UK receive the funding they need to maintain a countryside which everyone can enjoy.