DEFRA'S Michael Gove has proposed a ‘Robin Hood style’ payment system in his consultation on the future of farm support in England, which would take money away from large landowners to fund more payments rewarding environmentally-friendly farming.

But despite this public-pleasing stance, both the Scottish Government and NFU Scotland have expressed disquiet at Mr Gove's focus on the environment over direct encouragement for livestock production, and sought assurances that Scotland will be able to do things differently.

The new Defra consultation proposes phasing out direct payments and suggests a number of options, including progressive reductions to farmers’ payments, with higher percentage reductions applied to amounts in higher payment bands and a cap to the largest payments.

Reducing payments to the largest landowners, via a £100,000 cap which would impact around 2100 farmers in England, could free up £150 million to be invested in environmental enhancement and other public goods, it was suggested.

Although these figures are only an estimate for English farmers, Scotland's industry cannot help but now anticipate that similar cuts could be rolled out here, a prospect only tempered by the UK's commitment to maintain the current agri-support budget till 2022.

Mr Gove said: “As we leave the EU, we have a historic opportunity to deliver a farming policy which works for the whole industry. Today we are asking for the views of those who will be affected to make sure we get this right, so any future schemes reflect the reality of life for famers and food producers.”

ScotGov responded by challenging the UK Government’s failure to recognise quality food production as a clear public good, as the estimated future funding cuts could penalise livestock producers across the board.

“It is concerning that the UK Government is seeking views on whether to remove direct support for basic farming activity or food production from farmers following the 2019 Basic Payment Scheme in England," said Scot|Gov. "This would be wholly unacceptable in Scotland as it would put our farmers and food producers at a disadvantage to those in the EU and clearly demonstrates why it is absolutely vital for Scotland to have full control over agriculture policy.

“The paper gives no clarity on what the total funding for rural policy will be to replace CAP and environment and rural funding. Without that information it is impossible for farmers, foresters, fishermen, and environmental managers to make long term plans post Brexit.”

The consultation paper itself contradicts Gove’s speech at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, where he said CAP Pillar One payments would continue at current levels to 2024 – not 2022 as the new paper states.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said that the consultation once again affirmed the necessity that the future of agricultural policy remain within the hands of the devolved administrations.

“Whilst most of the measures proposed are for England-only, they are of significant interest as Scotland and the other devolved administrations develop their own suites of measures to support agriculture and land management after we leave the CAP," he said.

“The proposals to cap and eventually phase out direct payments in England runs counter to the real needs of significant sectors of the Scottish agricultural industry. NFUS will look closely at these proposals amongst the other measures within the consultation paper and will respond in due course.”