Payments to farmers under the Countryside Care Scheme should be capped at £50,000, a Tynwald scrutiny committee report recommends.
The second report of the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee, to be presented to next week’s Tynwald but debated at a later sitting, concludes that the Countryside Care Scheme should continue but changes should be made as it disadvantages smaller farmer in favour of those with larger holdings.
In 2012, 35 farmers received more than £50,000 in payments.
Introduced in April 2009 the Countryside Care Scheme replaced the old system of production subsidies with an area payment for maintaining land in good agricultural and environmental condition.
But there is continuing concern about its impact on the farming industry and the Meat Plant including a rise in live exports.
The Environment and Infrastructure scrutiny committee was tasked with investigating the scheme following a Tynwald debate on agriculture policy in May last year.
Its report concludes the scheme is a ‘well-formed’ scheme and should not be discontinued.
But it says it has been weakened by lack of additional support from other now discontinued financial schemes originally in place to provide support for development and diversification of Manx produce.
It notes there have also been issues with paying farmers the equivalent UK price for their produce. Processors are pressurised to pay these rates.
And the committee adds: ‘The scheme also appears to have favoured the larger acreage enterprises over those with smaller acreage or those using more intensive farming methods. The Countryside Care Scheme does not favour intensive farming methods and this needs to be addressed.’
The committee suggests the minimum size of farm to be included in the scheme should be 12 acres, a reduction from the current 20 acres. To be included, these smaller enterprises must be ‘genuine’ not ‘hobby’ farms.
Its second recommendation is that the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture should consider capping Countryside Care Scheme payments to a maximum of £50,000 per year.
Any money saved by applying a cap could be recycled into support schemes for farmers to make their enterprises more viable.
The report says: ‘Under the CCS, payments should only be given to those who look after the land in full compliance with the CCS. Those who produce should receive their just reward.’
Figures released in a written reply to a House of Key question in February this year, revealed eight farm holding received payments of over £100,000 in 2012-13. These payments totalled £1,086,069 and averaged £135,759.
A total of 29 got payments of between £50,000 and £100,000. These payments totalled £1,900,948 and averaged £65,550. CCS payments to all farmers totalled £7,401,823
Giving his evidence, DEFA Minister Phil Gawne warned that putting a cap on payments would lead to farmers dividing up their land to get round the rules.
He told them: ‘You start off one morning with 100 farms, then you introduce the changes and then you have 200 farms. That is what will happen.’
The committee suggested DEFA should consider using the German model for acreage payments, with a sliding scale per acre for financial support.
In March this year, Tynwald approved plans for a £2m refurbishment of the Meat Plant. The committee welcomed improvements in efficiencies at the plant but said throughput must be increased and suggested placing a levy on the export of live animals to deter farmers from shipping stock across for slaughter.