Lincoln Lawyer: Farm subsidies – Will farmers need to be more ‘green’?

This story is over

Samantha Worth is a trainee solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, working in the Employment & Dispute Resolution department assisting with cases across a wide spectrum for both commercial and private clients with particular interest in employment and discrimination issues.

The annual Lincolnshire Show was with us once more with plenty for everyone to see, do, take part in and eat! Agriculture remains at the heart of the show and is a wonderful way to showcase the very best in rural Lincolnshire life.

However, behind the scenes there is still uncertainty within the agricultural sector with reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) looming on the horizon. The CAP’s aim is to provide farmers with a reasonable standard of living, consumers with quality food at fair prices and to also preserve rural heritage across the EU.

These payments are tied to the amount of land a farmer occupies and, as the more wealthy farmers are generally the ones with the most land, they are the ones who obtain the largest payouts, whereas the smaller struggling farmer who really needs the support to boost their income will receive the least.

From 2014 however, it is proposed that 30% of each and every farmers’ subsidy will depend upon whether they have satisfied certain ‘greening obligations’ that are likely to be imposed.

This means that they will have to leave some of their land fallow to encourage wildlife, maintain permanent pastureland and grow at least three different crops to encourage diversification. It’s safe to say that there are some very rich farmers who benefit enormously from the subsidy system and do not really need additional financial support. They will probably not be too upset if they do not qualify for ‘greening payments’.

And yet for the smaller farmer, having to go beyond existing commitments to the environment to obtain their essential subsidy payments could leave many struggling to survive.

The ‘greening obligations’ are therefore highly controversial as they could lead to many small family farms going out of business, only to be taken over by the larger estates that operate their business in a less than environmentally friendly way.

Far from helping the environment, it could potentially do the opposite. With the proposals being set to come into force from 2014 there are a number of farmers who will be keeping a watchful eye on the developments.

As a trainee solicitor working in an expanding Commercial Property department, which includes Agricultural Law, I am aware of farmer clients who are concerned by what the future holds and how it will affect them.

In a time when everyone is being encouraged to consider the environment and do all we can to look to reduce our energy consumption, recycle and conserve water could the ‘greening obligations’ be seen as reasonable incentives for farmers to go that extra mile? Or are they unfair and actually unlikely to have any favourable effect for the environment at all?