A government adviser on Brexit has suggested that farm payments should be directed towards individual projects which deliver defined and specific environmental benefits.
In a first clear indication of the direction of future subsidies post-Brexit Dieter Helm, professor of economics at Oxford University, said farmers would have to bid for contracts to undertake environmental work.
Prof Helm is chairman of the Natural Capital Committee an organisation established in 2012 to provide expert, independent advice to government on how natural assets can best be utilised.
He has suggested that public money could be offered to park authorities so that they could put out a tender for public works, such as repairing dry stone walls and cutting hedges.
He said: “The public good is defined and the contracts specify what needs to be done. It is the approach taken for many other public goods paid for by public monies.”
He believes that governmental bodies could be created, who would be allowed to “allocate their budgets accordingly” depending on what public services are priorities at the time.
“Contractors, including farmers, could bid for these contracts, and then the income goes with them,” said Prof Helm.
“Where farmers are well placed to improve the natural environment, they will gain the specific contracts.”
These projects could be financed using farm subsidies and other sources, according to Prof Helm.
Prof Helm said the National Farmers Union’s post-Brexit agricultural policy was built on a “very weak argument” regarding increased food security and self-sufficiency.
“What the NFU fails to provide is a reasoned case as to why it is in the public interest to maximise production and in the process reduce external food dependency,” he said.
“This is combined with the lack of a coherent plan as how to achieve this objective – were it to be desirable.”
Prof Helm rejected calls for subsidies to be directed away from Pillar One direct payments and towards Pillar Two environmental payments instead.
He added: “Simply expanding the environmental pot would not necessarily produce the desired impacts.”
He concluded by stressing the views were his own based upon his own experience, rather than the views of the committee as a whole.