Farming subsidies to be cut to stop spread of solar panels, says DEFRA

Agricultural subsidies for farmers who allow solar panels to be built in their fields will be scrapped to stop the English countryside from being 'blighted by solar farms', the government has announced.

Solar: subsidies cut
Solar: subsidies cut

The Department for the Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said yesterday’s announcement means that farmers will lose their right to claim subsidies for "fields filled with solar panels".

DEFRA said the plans would "ensure more agricultural land is dedicated to growing crops and food" and would "help rural communities who do not want their countryside blighted by solar farms".

Ministers said they want to see farms dedicated to agriculture "to help boost our food and farming industry".

When it comes into effect from next January, farmers who allow solar panels in their fields will no longer be eligible for any farm subsidy payments available through the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy for that land.

The move comes after the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), announced earlier this month that the Renewables Obligation subsidy for new large-scale solar farms with a capacity greater than 5MW will end next April.

Earlier this year, the Department for Communities and Local Government changed planning rules to prevent solar installations being installed in fields that could be used for farming.

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "English farmland is some of the best in the world and I want to see it dedicated to growing quality food and crops.

"I do not want to see its productive potential wasted and its appearance blighted by solar farms.

"Farming is what our farms are for and it is what keeps our landscape beautiful.

"It makes my heart sink to see row upon row of solar panels where once there was a field of wheat or grassland for livestock to graze."

Solar panels would be best placed on the 250,000 hectares of south-facing commercial rooftops, Truss added, "where they will not compromise the success of our agricultural industry".

According to DEFRA, the subsidy change would save up to £2 million of public money each year that would no longer be available for these subsidies.

The department said there are now 250 solar farms in the English countryside, with the biggest covering as much as 100 hectares, while more than 7,600 hectares of agricultural land across the UK is currently or planned to be used for solar farms.

The announcement was criticised by sector body Solar Trade Association. Leonie Greene, its head of external affairs, said: "It is damaging and incorrect for DEFRA to suggest that solar farms are in conflict with food production.

"The government’s own planning guidance makes clear that farming practices should continue on solar farms on greenfield land.

"The industry, working with the National Farmers Union, has been very careful to define good practice to ensure continued agricultural production.

"The land is still available for farming – the solar fixings only take up 5 per cent of the land. This means plenty of room for continued agricultural practices such as sheep, geese or chicken farming."

john.geoghegan@haymarket.com


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