A hill farmer reflects on the farcical Rural Payments Agency
The stress of living under the new single farm payment regime has been akin to the onset of foot and mouth. The latter was described as an act of God which would imply that the former was an act of Margaret Beckett. Common sense seemed to prevail over insanity in the outer regions of the United Kingdom but the English region became a concoction from every interested stakeholder other than farmers themselves.
The 'hybrid' system adopted by the English region could be described as nothing other than a total fiasco. According to Defra there have been numerous unforeseen difficulties. Most rural practitioners with an ounce of wisdom could have foreseen the majority of these difficulties. Defra have constantly been warned of problems by the many interested parties but has refused to listen and ploughed on regardless with their gold-plated policy.
The greatest mistake made by Defra was to try and do too much in a short time to establish the 'hybrid' single farm payment regime. This scheme which only applies to the English region is made up from an historical value of each farm (i.e. the combination of sheep premium, suckler cow premium, beef special premium, slaughter premium and arable area payments which was allocated to each holding in the financial year 2001/2002) plus a value for each hectare farmed by each farmer. On top of this the farms were then split into three categories, English moorland, English Severely Disadvantaged Area, and English non-Severely disadvantaged. To make matters worse they then embarked on a mapping scheme to measure the size of every single field in England, from the smallest pony paddocks to the largest open fell in the uplands.
The human resources department of Defra were advised to reduce staff by 1000 at a time of change unprecedented within the agricultural and environmental departments. While this upheaval was going on, two new schemes were introduced to try and encourage a more environmental approach to farming. The entry-level environmental scheme and high-level stewardship scheme were introduced by the Rural Development Service. In the midst of this turmoil the management at Defra decided to scrap the Rural Development Service, English Nature and Countryside Agency and form a new agency called Natural England. I hope you're still with me... I'm a farmer and still get lost trying to get my head round these changes.