TENS of millions of pounds are to be taken out of Dorset’s countryside economy, with a knock-on effect on jobs, a report warns.

A total of £883million will disappear in payments that farmers and other landowners in the South West relied on under the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, the study says.

In Dorset, £38.3m paid to land managers under the Basic Payment Scheme will reduce to £4.8m in 2027 before the scheme is axed altogether.  

The payments will be replaced by a new system intended to support better land and nature management, but the payments are expected to be much lower.

The figures come in a report prepared for the Great South West, which includes Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Luke Rake – principal of Kingston Maurward College near Dorchester, board member of Dorset LEP and chair of Dorset Local Nature Partnership – said: “The significant shift in agricultural policy and associated post-Brexit transition represents a challenge for the food production and land management industry, and I welcome this report.

“Whilst the increased focus on biodiversity recovery and farming for public good is welcome, there is also a need to ensure this transition is handled carefully and the report clearly shows a major financial risk for the sector. This is particularly acute in the South West region, where rural resilience relies on a network of family and smaller farms which are the backbone of the communities in which they sit.

 “As principal of Dorset’s specialist agricultural college, the future of the young people we serve is closest to my mind. Shifts in policy need to be matched with appropriate support to enable our food security to be maintained, the next generation of land managers to develop, and the rural villages and towns of the South West to thrive.”

Chris Short, associate professor in environmental governance at Countryside and Community Research Institute and lead researcher on the report, said: “Many farms in this region are typically small, family businesses, particularly vulnerable to a loss of support. This funding is disappearing, just as living and business costs are rising sharply across the country.

“Any reduction in spending at farm level will have a direct impact on the wider rural economy. The impact of these changes will also be felt far beyond the farm gate.”

Mel Squires, regional director of NFU South West, said: “As our family farming, food producing businesses, related supply chains and the wider rural economy battle with significant cost inflation, the scale of reductions in available funds to businesses laid bare by this report is considerable and can’t be ignored.

“The effects will be multiplied, as the wider counties, regional economy and benefits to local communities will be impacted, and that is why we are seeking government support for a whole farm approach to holistic business advice and support at a period of already significant change.”

Farming minister Victoria Prentis said:  “Our new schemes are supporting the choices that individuals take for their own farms, and helping to boost their productivity and profitability. We have recently almost trebled our new Farming Equipment and Technology Fund to over £48m to support more farmers with their investment plans.

“In 2017, £1.775billion of payments were made across 85,000 farms and 10 per cent of claimants received half of this total. Thirty-three per cent of farms received less than £5,000 each. This isn’t right and we are repurposing this money to pay farmers for the work that they do, rather than the amount of land they own. In the South West, more than 5,000 farmers are already in our environmental land management schemes.”