Farmers and wildlife groups go head to head on subsidies decision
NewsMonday 16 December 2013
Leaders in the farming sector have urged ministers to halt their plans to cut subsidies by 15% and transfer the cash to wildlife protection in England and Wales.
The NFU has written to every MP, stating that the plan to share £3.5bn of farming grants would disadvantage British farmers.
The NFU also went on to warn MPs that going ahead with the move would risk rural votes.
The government has stated that the money would help to build on the “success” of its environmental and rural growth schemes.
In contrast to what the NFU is saying wildlife groups have used newspaper advertisements to urge the government to keep its countryside commitments.
According to the BBC, these groups are also saying that voters pay £400 a year to subsidise farmers, and that people expect their money to be used to protect the environment, not just to shore up the farmers’ budgets.
In the summer, the EU set the framework for how the money should be spent with its scheme to "green" the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Farmers put pressure on these greening plans, which led to them being heavily diluted, however, large landowners will in future be required to do more in order to collect subsidies. This will include leaving existing grassland unploughed, diversifying their crops and setting aside some land for wildlife.
The main issue is deciding exactly how the farm subsidy pot in England and Wales should be split between the two conflicting parties. The decision is made even more tricky due to the fact that the overall size of the pot has shrunk due to the reduction of the CAP.
In both England and Wales, ministers have signalled a wish to shift 15% - the maximum allowable amount - away from direct payments to farmers, which is mainly for owning farmland. This shifted money will then go towards protecting wildlife and stimulating the rural economy.
In their letter to MPs, the NFU stated that it is unfair to farmers in England and Wales, because farmers elsewhere are being protected. For example, in Scotland, only 9.5% of subsidies are being moved away from direct payments.
And, in another complaint, the union has stated that the government has appeared to be ready to transfer the amount without actually having decided the purpose of the transfer.
In the letter, NFU president Peter Kendall said: "Farmers remain at a complete loss to understand what the government intends to use this money on, and how it can be used effectively for the benefit of their businesses.
"The threat of disproportionate reductions in their payments vis a vis their immediate competitors is making them angry and frustrated with this government."
A number of wildlife groups have taken the opposite view and they believe that David Cameron will be discussing the issue over the weekend.
The RSPB is one such organisation. They have registered huge losses in farmland birds through intensive subsidised farming and to convince the public on the matter they have taken out a full-page advertisement in the Times warning that "this weekend the prime minister could cut the life from the English countryside".
Green groups say public money spent on subsidising farmers should go on public good like thriving wildlife and well-managed water catchment areas to retain water for use and to prevent flooding.
Defra responded by saying: "Our environmental and rural growth schemes have delivered real benefits to the natural environment and rural economy.
"We want to build on these schemes' success by channelling into them some of the money from the budget for farmers' direct payments.
"We have sought views on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy in England and will make an announcement shortly."
The final division will be complicated, with firms supporting rural development also hoping to benefit from the 15% transfer of funds.
In Scotland the government is consulting on plans to shift 9.5% of subsidies away from direct payments to farmers - a payment which is mostly for owning farmland. The money will go towards protecting wildlife and stimulating the rural economy.
Picture: Scott Robinson