Today I attended a Defra consultation meeting on the agriculture and food green paper in Harrogate. There was a good attendance of over eighty people,including a large contingent of farmers.
Defra personnel insisted that 'nothing was set in stone', but they also said that the secretary of state had set a very clear direction of travel.
The clear view of farmers in the direct payments breakout session was that they wanted an across the board reduction in support, i.e., no capping.
There did seem to be a hankering for the world of the 1947 Agriculture Act. In particular, deficiency payments were mentioned. However, the Treasury would never endorse them as the spend is so variable.
I am not convinced that all the money saved by capping will be transferred to new farm schemes. Many of these schemes may not be accessible to all farmers, so the idea that any money lost in direct payments will be compensated elsewhere is optimistic.
It was argued that the figures that showed a high level of dependency in support payments were too optimistic, i.e., the level of reliance was even greater.
It was evident in a discussion on knowledge transfer that many farmers were benefiting from small self-help groups where they could see new methods tried out in practice. However, it was probably the more efficient farmers that were making use of these arrangements.
Above all, a great deal of uncertainty prevailed given that we do not know the shape of any trade deal with the EU and third countries.