Back in April, the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) published a blueprint for what should replace the common agricultural policy (CAP) if the UK voted to leave the European Union.
“So far, we are the only farming organisation to publish a comprehensive document on this subject,” said George Dunn, chief executive of the Reading based TFA, who voted to Remain. “This is not a path I would have chosen but we are where we are.”
Mr Dunn added that the split among voters about whether to leave or remain in the EU was similar to the split in the TFA’s membership.
“Without a credible plan B for exiting the EU, we had a discussion in our executive committee and published our draft plan in April to try to give more structure to the debate.” But the TFA could not “gain much traction with the government,” said Mr Dunn, and there was no “firm thinking” from ministers. “After a good natured debate in the organisation, we could not advocate a ‘Leave’ vote.”
Central to the TFA’s CAP replacement blueprint is a three legged policy for maintaining the £3 billion currently spent each year on subsidies, but spending the money in a different way.
One billion pounds would be spent on a new agri environment scheme which sets out a menu of costed options that farmers can choose from for their farms. This would be judged on the basis of outcomes – as opposed to the means of achieving the outcomes – and would include specific options for hill and upland farmers focusing on ruminant livestock production.
Another £1 billion would go on a new farm business development scheme to provide an annual grant of up to £25,000 per farm, per year to help with the implementing of approved five year plans for farm development covering investment in fixed equipment, cost reduction initiatives, processing capacity, diversification, marketing, cooperative schemes, producer organisations, etc.
The last £1 billion of the £3 billion package would be spent on near market research and development, promotion, market development, brand development and other supply chain initiatives.
Mr Dunn said he did not think that those tenant farmers on newer style farm business tenancies would miss conventional subsidies as much as those on 1986 Agricultural Holdings Act Tenancies. “Those on the newer style tenancies have had to pay higher rents which reflect the benefit of subsidies.”
Mr Dunn pointed out that Tory MP Oliver Letwin is in charge of discussing issues which will be considered by a new unit of civil servants preparing the next government and prime minister for Brexit. “We need to think through some of the strategic issues around what the industry will look like as we Brexit.” One of these will be access to markets for farmers and growers. “Access to international markets outside the EU is by no means a foregone conclusion, and we will have to work very hard at that.”
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