Liberal Democrat DEFRA spokesperson Tim Farron has accused DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove of insulting British farmers.
Mr Gove has called for a move away from farming “subsidies for inefficiency” in a speech on his vision the future of our farming industry today.
Commenting, Mr Farron said: “For Gove to imply that farm payments are a reward for inefficiency is an insult to British farmers. It shows he has no understanding of the reality of farming in this country.
“British farmers are some of the most efficient and dynamic in the world. Farm payments compensate for the fact that the market is broken, because supermarkets and processors dominate the industry and exploit farmers.
“The overwhelming majority of livestock and dairy farmers would be in the red if it wasn’t for direct farm payments.
“Gove’s announcement also does nothing to address the impending tariff catastrophe facing farmers once we leave the single market.”
Cheffins auctioneers were cautious in their response to Mr Gove’s comments.
Jonathan Stiff, Head of Rural Division, Cheffins comments: “The major positive from Michael Gove’s announcement today is the assurance that BPS will be paid at the current rate until 2024.
“Not only does this give the farming industry a basis on which to plan and adapt their businesses through a five-year transitional period from the point of Brexit in March 2019, it should also give the government sufficient time to plan a replacement support system that is well-considered and hopefully more balanced in its approach, rather than being single-mindedly focused on environmental measures.
“However, the other side of the argument is that it is disappointing that Michael Gove continues to focus on the replacement of the BPS scheme rather than focussing on the principles of our new trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world, as ultimately this will be what has a larger impact on the farming industry than the restructure of the funding system. Similarly, it is disappointing that he continues to focus on environmental measures without formulating any proposals for improving productivity, training or technological advancement.
“A shift towards purely environmental work will increase the UK’s reliance on imported food which will have its implications for farmers and growers across the country. There is a failure from Mr Gove to recognise the efforts of the huge numbers of farmers and landowners who work hard to manage the rural environment in a manner which facilitates quality food production and a cared for countryside for the public good.”
The Soil Association welcomed Mr Gove’s comments.
In a statement the group said: “We warmly welcome the move towards an agricultural policy that prioritises environmental protection and the new emphasis on the vital links between food, farming and public health. The clear timetable provides much-needed certainty for farmers, whilst the commitments on public procurement and better labelling are important for food producers and consumers alike.
“We now need to see more detail on how farmers will be enabled and encouraged to shift to higher animal welfare systems, move away from synthetic pesticides, restore degraded soils and improve water quality. The greatest test of this transition is whether the UK’s food and farming system measures up to the monumental challenges of public health, which was highlighted in the speech, and climate change, which received just two mentions.
“The Government must also make an ambitious and unambiguous commitment to organic and other agroecological approaches which are proven to deliver on animal welfare, biodiversity, soil health and climate change - both during and after 2024.”