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Farmers ‘left in the lurch’ as post-Brexit payments delayed

Sector bosses angry at ‘lack of progress’ in replacing nature-friendly EU subsidies in UK

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Friday 25 August 2023 17:28 BST
Farmers frustrated at delayed scheme to encourage nature protection
Farmers frustrated at delayed scheme to encourage nature protection (PA)

Farmers in England say they have been “left in the lurch” by the government over a post-Brexit sustainable farming scheme which has left them unable to plan which crops to plant.

Many in the sector are furious at delays to sustainable farming incentive (SFI) for 2023 – the system of payments which replaces the EU’s old common agricultural policy.

Ministers and officials said it the scheme aimed at getting farmers to take care of nature would start in August, before a wider rollout in the early autumn.

But IT problems mean it looks likely to be pushed back, industry sources told Farmers Weekly – leaving farmers unable to decide where and how much to plant.

“The clock is ticking in August and it looks like Defra are not going to deliver the new SFI scheme on time as promised,” one said. “They are in a mess and are not sure when it’s going to be started.”

Martin Lines, UK chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, told the farming publication they had been “left in the lurch” by delays to the scheme – saying the uncertainty was hitting businesses “really hard”.

He added: “Defra [Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs] seems to continue to over-promise and under-deliver, leaving farmers in the lurch and making it almost impossible to plan their future through this transition.”

Only 224 farmers in England were paid under the post-Brexit scheme last year, according to The Guardian, while subsides were cut by an average of 22 per cent. Farmers had hoped 2023 would be the year for a wider take-up of the SFI.

Boris Johnson had promised good deal for farmers after Brexit (PA)

The Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn they were “fast losing patience with the lack of progress”, adding: “There are too many promises about tomorrow rather than delivering what is needed for today”.

David Exwood, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Farmers in England have had further basic payment scheme reductions. Milk prices are down and prices for red meat are also on the slide.”

“It has been the most expensive year we have ever had and a very difficult harvest. It will be a tough autumn for farmers,” he added.

The criticism comes as government is under pressure to explain its plans for post-Brexit checks on EU imports, amid confusion about when they will be introduced after reports of a fifth delay.

Labour has written to trade secretary Kemi Badenoch demanding she explain the government’s plans – accusing her of “absolutely shambolic” and “chaotic” handling of the issue.

The government said this week that an announcement would be imminent to provide clarity to firms. The start of a new wave of red tape on imports had been expected to kick in at the end of October, but will reportedly be pushed back until the end of January.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are continuing preparations to open SFI 2023 for applications, including final pre-launch tests and adjustments to ensure the process is as straightforward as possible, and plan to start accepting applications shortly.”

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