United Kingdom

Elderly farmers should be paid to retire, Environment Secretary George Eustice says

Older farmers will be paid to 'retire with dignity' to help bring new blood into the profession, the Environment Secretary said yesterday.

George Eustice accused some veteran farmers of 'standing in the way of change' and coasting along on state subsidies. They will be offered lump sums to quit and let the young generation tend their land.

The average age of a farmer is 59 but many young people want to join the trade.

The move forms part of major reforms to farming as Britain leaves the EU and subsidies are phased out. Mr Eustice told the National Farmers' Union conference in Birmingham that his family had farmed in West Cornwall for six generations.

George Eustice (pictured) accused some veteran farmers of 'standing in the way of change' and coasting along on state subsidies

He said: 'Our pedigree South Devon cattle and British lop pigs were almost part of the family. I understand the responsibility and commitment that a farmer feels to the toil of previous generations.

'I also understand the burden of expectation that can exist to loyally continue the family tradition and how this sometimes stands in the way of change.'

But he said 'a fresh perspective can make a world of difference. New entrants are the lifeblood of any vibrant industry and farming is no exception.' 

About £3 billion of state subsidy is paid to farmers each year but this will be phased out in England between 2021 and 2027. The Scottish and Welsh governments are expected to maintain the subsidy until at least 2024.

Mr Eustice told the National Farmers' Union conference in Birmingham that his family had farmed in West Cornwall for six generations

Some 61 per cent of farm income comes from the subsidy.

The new system will see farmers receive payments to enhance the environment such as planting trees or hedgerows.

Mr Eustice said the current system encouraged some farmers 'to coast, to take no risks' and simply remain in occupation of land in order to collect the subsidy. 'We are giving consideration to an exit scheme to help older farmers retire with dignity,' he added.

He said they would receive a lump sum equivalent to several years of subsidy 'in return for them either surrendering their tenancy or selling or letting their farm'.