NEWBURY MP Richard Benyon believes the way European Union subsidies are paid to some of the nation’s richest landowners should be scrapped in favour of a more sustainable system.
Almost £3bn is paid out to farmers every year through the tax-payer-funded subsidies, including more than £994,000 to local landowners Sir Richard Sutton Estates Limited and £451,000 to Yattendon Estates Ltd in 2015.
According to figures from Defra, both local landowners appear in the UK’s top 100 beneficiaries of the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) which is paid to farmers based on the size of the land they own.
The subsidies are paid to supplement income and manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of such commodities such as wheat, milk, rice and meat.
However, the system has come in for some criticism, with some of the wealthiest landowners in the country, including the Queen, benefitting from taxpayer cash.
Englefield Home Farms, Mr Benyon’s family farming business, and the Englefield Estate Ltd, of which he is a director, received almost £200,000 in subsidies last year.
However, the MP for Newbury believes the current system is unsustainable in the long term and says Brexit provides the ideal opportunity for reform.
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News, he said: “A remainer though I was, there is an opportunity now to create a much better system.
“However, these are not subsidies – this, if anything, is compensation.
“Farmers manage their raw materials from which many people benefit, whether they are retailers, water companies or whatever else, and there should be a reasonable system to compensate farmers.”
He went on to urge the farming community to make their case to the Government for a straight-forward system, saying one that rewards all farmers in the same way is not a “long-term sustainable system”.
South East regional director of the Country Landowners Association, Robin Edwards, agreed that Brexit will provide the opportunity to improve the subsidy system, which could further benefit the environment and rural communities.
“What we are doing is pressing the Government to establish a dedicated viable policy which betters the existing European Common Agricultural Policy,” he said.
“We believe Brexit creates this opportunity for these policies, which would not only improve the outcome for farmers but for rural communities and the environment.
“We essentially have a blank sheet of paper, so there’s an opportunity to start from the beginning.”
However, commenting on the way the payments are split, he said: “I don’t see why it should change. The more land you have – the more environmental land you have – the more environmental work you do, the more you should be paid.”