My extended grump dates all the way back to 2005 when production subsidies were replaced by direct payments (initially the single farm payment and more recently the basic payment scheme). I was furious then and remain so today.
While the integrated administration and control system – IACS – regime that paid a farmer a subsidy for each unit of production was horribly bureaucratic, at least it rewarded farmers for producing food. Direct payments, on the other hand, are famously “decoupled,” and paid to any occupier of a hectare of land, whether they produce any food or not.
My argument back in 2005 was that this decoupled system was fundamentally immoral in that it simply rewarded landowners for owning land and not farming. I also pointed out that even land agents (who, with few exceptions, are not very bright) would see the potential for jacking up both land prices and farm rents, given that this subsidy money was to be simply dished out to the occupier of land. So it was that land prices have trebled since 2005 and direct payments have come to set a “floor” in farm rents, with agents demanding the BPS plus whatever rent a prospective tenant is willing to pay on top.
Such was my indignation at the removal of my coupled IACS production subsidies I quickly gave up growing combinable crops on much of my poorer land and offloaded a 467 cow suckler herd. In my own version of “slipper farming,” I entered a lot of my farm into an agri environment scheme, and have been “dog and stick” farming a few sheep and cattle ever since.
With Brexit looming, the days of BPS are now numbered. But so ridiculous a means of subsidy has it been that politicians now hate the whole idea of subsidising farmers at all. DEFRA secretary Michael Gove, in his “Health and Harmony: the Future for Food, Farming and the Environment in a Green Brexit” command paper, outlines all sorts of ways of cutting the BPS before finally abandoning it in 2022 or possibly 2024. But the striking thing is that there is little in his sixty page command paper that proposes a subsidy to encourage farmers to produce food.
This is very worrying as UK farmers are losing money on the food they produce (average losses from food production are £3,000 per farm, with the losses increasing the larger the unit). That leaves farmers entirely dependant on agri environment payments, diversification and, most of all, the BPS for their livelihood.
Most farmers, of course, use their BPS receipts to subsidise their farming losses. But with the withdrawal of the BPS now imminent, that will soon no longer be an option. How many of my fellow farmers, I wonder, will soon be joining me in my longstanding refusal to produce food without a profit motive?