Most UK farmers depend heavily on support payments. In several years recently the grand total of net farm income, which includes funds to invest as well as to live on, has been similar to the total of subsidy payments. In other words, on average no subsidy, no NFI. On this farm about 25% of the revenue is subsidy.
Every time the payment system goes haywire, caseload for organisations such as The Farming Community Network (FCN) rises threefold or more.
So why did many farmers embrace Brexit? Not because they were confident about life without support, I think.
They received honeyed assurances on, for example, the early morning farming programme that with the UK “in control” farm support would continue–some sincere from people unlikely to be able to deliver and some thoughtless. At the same time we were and still are in the middle of one of the system’s periods of chaos with thousands of farmers being suddenly penalized without comprehensible explanation or any sense of justice.
This time we ,ourselves, have been punished, had most of the penalty doubled,then more penalty added for the forseeable future with virtually no explanation. I am in a position to know quite a lot about how this happened, but most are not. First Govt insisted that all applications must be by computer,which for some is impossible. Second, they must be done via The “Govt portal” which could not handle the volume of information required, so at the last minute all applications had to be done on paper. Third the Rural Payments Agency lacked the resources to transfer all the paper information onto the”system”and probably made mistakes. Four, Govt insisted that all the penalties thrown up by the system must be sent out whether or not they were understandable or just.
Previously farmers would have blamed the rural payments agency – often quite rightly. However, that has changed and it would be a bit perverse to blame the agency whose staff had voluntarily raised over £5000 to support the organisation (FCN) trying to support farmers struggling with these things! So it must have been the fault of the EU. An idea encouraged.
All this accounted for much of the farmer talk of “red tape”, but also there is the awkward way in which the requirements of “cross compliance”– all those environmental and other requirements, are set out in the UK. Farmers are not always aware of the way red tape works in areas in which the EU has no role. Their lives are lived in what you might describe as real realities that cannot be bent to fit regulatory” realities”. Finally many have a feeling of being discounted and marginalised,though it is hard to see why this should suddenly be focussed on Brussels.
Policy remains essential but it may not be readily forthcoming from a political class which has previously shown little interest!