In the last week much has been made of food security post Brexit. In 2017 farmers across the postcodes of our district received nearly £6 million in farm subsidies. In 2018 that rose to £7.7 million, a total of £13.6 million paid to approximately 200 farmers. Many of them are concerned for their livelihoods and the land they farm, they fear it may end up in the hands of developers if they go under post Brexit.
Farmers are dependent on the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) which is the biggest of the European Union’s rural grants and payments to help the farming industry.
Those farmers eligible to apply for the BPS must have at least 5 hectares (12.3 acres or approx 12 international rugby pitches) of agricultural land. Some farming businesses aren’t allowed to claim if they carry out certain business activities.
In the last few days much has been made of farmers going out of business post Brexit. Farmers we spoke to across the Marsh and the North Downs said – The Basic Payment Scheme is something you can count on, without it some farmers would have gone under long ago.
According to statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Basic Payment Scheme accounted for 61 per cent of the average annual farm profit of £37,000 from 2014 to 2017, although that level varies widely depending on type of farm. Farms grazing livestock rely on subsidies for more than 90 per cent of profits, while the figure is only 10 per cent for fruit farms.
About 50% of the farmers we spoke to across the district are confident in their abilities and their survival post Brexit. Losing the BPS will hurt, regardless of size or amount. However, others fear that if the BPS is reduced considerably they will go under and worry that the land might become available for housing development.
A farmer on the Marsh, who mainly grows arable crops, who spoke to the Shepwayvox Team said: “In the future I’ll be competing on export markets against French grain and Irish sheep meat who will still be enjoying subsidies, it will be tough to compete against that,” he went onto say, “It will be like fighting with one arm tied behind my back if the subsidy goes or is significantly reduced.” This sentiment was echoed by many farmers who we spoke to across the district.
Between 16 October 2016 and the 15 October 2018 farmers received £13.6 million in subsidies across the postcodes of our district.
There are a couple of surprising names in the list as they are not farmers, but are, or were eligible for the BPS:
According to the National Farmers Union the government has promised to maintain the current support until the end of this Parliament. Direct payments to farmers will start to shrink in 2021, initially by 5 per cent for smaller farms to 20 per cent for larger ones, as new environmental payments kick in. This will have an impact on farmers in our district. Environmental contracts will eventually take over completely by 2028 when the basic payment ends, according to the current Govt position.
The UK grows approximately 61% of the food it eats, according to the National Farming Union (NFU),Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City, University of London, and DEFRA’s Agriculture in the UK paper (July 2017).
It is inevitable that some farms will go under and the amount of home grown produce may be reduced, as not all the land will be used again for farming purposes. There are developers waiting in the wings locally and nationally to step in to purchase farmers land for the purpose of developing it. Some farmers are right to be fretful, while others only see Brexit as an opportunity to diversify and survive. Only time will tell how many of the 200 plus farmers who receive subsidies in our district will fair. In the meantime with regards Brexit, there may be trouble ahead, but lets face the music and dance.
The Shepwayvox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful