Farm subsidies and helping the environment

Ian Stewart insists farmers do not get payments just for owning land, Bob Roberts points out the importance of incentives and public access, while Iain Climie is concerned about food security.

The farming subsidy system needs to be totally redesigned and, yes, there are hideous anomalies (Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’, 30 November). Racehorses and golf courses are not my ideas of farming. But please stop stating that farmers get subsidies just “from owning land”. You do not get payments just for owning land. You get payments for doing things that protect the environment – and for avoiding things that might harm it. Payments are made based on the amount of land used for agriculture, always rather less than the amount “owned”. Not surprisingly, the more agricultural land you are responsible for, the more you have to do – and therefore more (pro-rata) is paid out.
Ian Stewart
Brackley, NorthamptonshireAdvertisement

It is unusual for Simon Jenkins to be so unqualified in his support for a government proposal (The UK’s farmers face upheaval, but a reform to subsidies is needed, 30 November). I applaud his enthusiasm, having been closely involved in the development of policies for environmentally friendly farming, including the creation of the countryside stewardship scheme. But there are two further steps that are essential for real change. The first is to incentivise farmers not just to follow rules for their new payments, but to actively strive for efficient environmental improvement – harnessing the drive and creativity that improved productivity in the postwar period. The second is to make public access an integral part of every farm plan – for if the public are to pay for these new goods, they must be allowed to enjoy them.
Bob Roberts
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Greening agriculture is vital, with Knepp in Sussex an example of combining conservation with careful use, while simply reducing waste has huge potential. Neither factory farming nor rabbit diseases should be considered acceptable. Reducing UK cattle and sheep numbers may be sensible, but not like 2007 in Shetland, where 5,000 sheep were culled on economic grounds but not eaten. Land usage is still profit-driven. Chalk downland is diverse, but intensive monocultures and development see much destroyed. Food security is more worrying: supplies face growing threats as once-trapped gases escape, while pests and diseases can still create havoc. 
Iain Climie
Whitchurch, Hampshire

Note: This blog is a re-post of the original posted on The Guardian website.