As I write this article in mid March with the last remnants of snow from the icy blast still visible, it is difficult to believe spring is round the corner.

Added to that the snow and frost has lowered ground temperatures and made the ground waterlogged, especially where the drifts have melted slowly over time. Oilseed rape has begun to grow and we have now applied Axan to all bar the crops on the Weald which is a different country.

On the upland we have green vigorous crops with growing points extending and we have applied a growth regulator and clean up fungicide to deal with the obvious levels of phoma and light leaf spot which have survived earlier fungicide treatments. Pigeons have made a bit of a comeback, just to remind us they are still around. But growth on the whole is comfortably outpacing them. We have grown a field of maize which we have been mowing off since Christmas and even though the pigeons have not worried the oilseed until recently, they have been feeding on the maize and we have been shooting the field fairly regularly with the number shot exceeding 700. A few more fields scattered across farms on the North Downs using bits of poor land might just help with control of this pest. It almost counts as winter bird seed cover although the objective does not quite fit with maintaining all bird populations.

Winter wheat falls into two categories, as ever. First wheats run from good to very strong in tiller numbers and growth. Second wheats took a real hammering from the frost and snow and look distressed. We have applied Axan to nearly all the second wheats and they are beginning to improve but are certainly nothing to get excited about for now. With the demise of nitrogen fixing crops on ecological focus area, we have dispensed with beans but we do have 400 acres of spring barley to sow when it gets warmer and it will all be Planet.

Since last month in the political world we have seen the publication of DEFRA’s command paper on the future direction of farming. From the productive agriculture perspective it contains an existential threat to businesses with the removal of direct basic payment scheme (BPS) subsidies and little to replace that lost money. Not only is BPS a volatility balancing measure but a recognition of the European Union and UK’s high regulatory standards for the environment and animal welfare which make us less competitive than our competitors producing a visibly identical product with lower regulatory costs. We are hearing nothing of less regulation but rather more about tariff free imports to keep food prices cheap. One does wonder how much cheaper the Rees Moggs of this world envisage food becoming when we have experienced negative margins over the last few years even with BPS payments. Certainly there is no future for any business in producing food at a loss.

The first challenge is the threat of a flat cap on payments at £100,000. That goes against everything we have strived for as an industry over the last 40 years at a stroke and will lead to a range of perverse outcomes. In arable the £100,000 cap equates to approximately 1,100 acres. That is less than the currently accepted viable level of approximately 1,500 acres. It will penalise the most productive farms in terms of labour and machinery as they have spread their fixed costs across the wider acres.

Any farm above the cap with owned and rented acres will have no use for the excess rented acres in that business and yet they will be competing against smaller farmers without the cap and with direct payments until they get to the magic figure when they get caught as well. So DEFRA secretary of state Michael Gove is arbitrarily determining the maximum size of arable farms which can only use different tenure and business structures to continue, most of which will revolve around smaller businesses and increased costs. As to a transition to that shock – well, it may be a little over 12 months away in May 2019.

All farms will feel the same chill as we go through transition to 2022 or 2024 and direct payments are phased out to be replaced with payments for public and environmental goods. The command paper has something for everyone from ramblers craving public access to every aspect of environmental good. It seems as if Gove is saying support us and get Brexit through and you will receive this when we are out.

Certainly the access forums are getting very excited about the new world of enhanced access over farmland thinking they have won unfettered access as all farmers sign up for the new schemes. Environmental organisations I have spoken to, after the initial burst of enthusiasm for the green Brexit agenda, are rather more careful in their response. It comes back to the unavoidable issue of World Trade Organisation trading terms that apply inside or outside of Europe and the pound of environmental “investment” for a pound of income foregone. Just as I cannot see what engages productive farmers in that scenario they can also see the wider dangers of the environment losing as farmers do not renew existing agreements and the failure in uptake of the current countryside stewardship schemes is the forerunner of the scenario that worries them.

In summary nothing in the command paper replaces the money lost through capping and phasing out of direct payments. The prospect of capping at £100,000 is a direct assault on the most productive arable farms we have and there is no coherent policy for the environment for farmers to buy into. Please respond to the consultation as rest assured many other specific interest groups and individuals with no experience or knowledge of farming will. When you have the opportunity to see or write to your local MP please make some of these points. If you want to add some spice to it, remind them that they have an election to fight – at the latest in May 2022 – and they will be desperate for support when that day arrives.