Payments to farmers and land owners is a news story that is repeated every year and often has negative spin. Farm payments were first started to increase food production and decrease reliance on imported food. In the first half of the 20th century huge amounts of land were left unfarmed because it was cheaper to import food.

Farmer’s payments used to be linked to production and they got a guaranteed price for their products. This led to over production; the infamous grain and Butter Mountains were one of the results of this policy.

Farmers now get market prices for their products, these prices change dramatically depending on world production. In low price years many farms loose money on their crops and the farm payments keep them in business. This is especially true for smaller and upland farms.

The payments are now linked to environmental and landscape management, these include; controlling water pollution, soil quality, maintaining hedges and wildlife protection. Even the simplest “Basic Payment Scheme” has to be applied for every year and the farmers must show they are following the rules. Many farmers and landowners apply for higher payments including “Countryside Stewardship” which has different “Tiers” and further rules. These can include flood management and restoring wildlife habitat.

For most farmers the payments they get are an essential part of their income. Making sure the “Basic Payment Scheme” application is made correctly is vital but complicated and many farmers employ consultants to make their applications.

The compliance rules include the width of field margins, when hedges can be cut, which type of crops can be grown and water used for irrigation. If these rules are not kept payments can be withheld.

The compliance rules are there for good environmental reasons however, many farmers and landowners just see them as hurdles that have to jumped. Without a commitment to the spirit of the compliance rules many of the environmental benefits are not being delivered.

To get an understanding of the complexity of the compliance rules have a look at some of links below. Farmers and landowners are not getting money for doing nothing!