The Single Payment Scheme is one of the most significant changes to support since the UK joined the EU. The support effectively shifts from production to the farmer.
Defra and the Rural Payments Agency both provide easy to interpret information on the details of the SPS. Here we briefly consider some of the debate and opinions relating to the change in Policy.
Article in the Daily Telegraph 17 May 2005
"From today, farmers will be paid a subsidy for owning their land. It is as strange and straightforward as that. They will not have to do anything explicitly "environmental" to get the cash, which will vary from £60 to £100 an acre. If they want to do something "environmental", such as not ploughing up the edges of their arable fields, or putting in beetle banks, or planting new hedges, they will get extra money for that. No, this new money from the Common Agriculture Policy is nothing but a reward for ownership. The only condition is that fields must not be let to go to wrack and ruin. Farmers will have to keep them a little tidy, but they certainly don't have to grow anything on them. As long as they look nice when the government inspector comes round - and the costs of that to the taxpayer are not yet entirely clear - the cheque will be in the post."
This is a less than positive view (from a farmer) on the SPS. The then president of the NFU, Tim Bennett, was perhaps not surprisingly more positive.
"the decoupling brought about by CAP reform means the Government will no longer direct, through support systems, what farmers should produce and from now on farmers will produce only when it is profitable to do so. Farmers environmental stewardship of the countryside will take a far more prominent role under cross-compliance regulations as we balance production with the environmental care demanded by society."
Perhaps not surprisingly the Friends of the Earth feel that the reforms "are not enough". Vicki Herd, senior campaigner on food and farming argues that "the reforms will do little to move farmers away from intensive agricultural practices using agro-chemicals and towards sustainable forms of farming which produce high quality, safe foods without damaging the environment."
Pause for thought.... do we really have a clear picture of how the reforms will affect production, environment and farmers in the UK? What are your views?
It could be concluded that the flat rate payments may mean a gradual redistribution of subsidies toward less intensive producers. The SPS when linked to changes in the agri-environmental mechanisms may start to accelerate environmental changes in the countryside. A key question appears to be the degree to which the public are willing to support more environmentally friendly farming systems and how they view the new methods of supporting farmers. Some will view payments as a necessary cost for the maintenance of our countryside. Other members of the public may view it as a handout for land ownership, feeling that tax payers money could be better spent elsewhere!
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