MEMBERS of Parliament have raised concerns over the Environment Department’s “blind optimism” on its plans for post-Brexit farming and land payments.

Farmers have been “left in the dark” by a lack of detail on the environmental land management (ELM) scheme that will replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies in England over the coming years, papers say.

The new regime includes a programme to support local nature on farms and “landscape recovery” funding for large-scale projects, which could include rewilding, as well as payments for farmers to farm more sustainably.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has not set out how increases to productivity or environmental benefits will be delivered by the scheme – or how it will offset the huge impact of cutting current direct subsidies by more than half by 2024/25.

Its report said Defra “concedes its confidence in the scheme looks like blind optimism without the details of what it has planned”.

The MPs said the lack of information from Defra early enough to allow farmers to plan was causing anxiety in the sector – exacerbated by a historic lack of trust caused by past failures to manage farm payment schemes.

It raised concerns Defra had not explained how changes in land use would not lead to more food being imported, with the environmental impacts of production being “exported” to countries with lower standards.

It said Defra had not established robust baselines or clear objectives to allow it to measure the success of the scheme and whether the £2.4 billion a year on agricultural schemes was providing value for money.

Defra’s engagement with the farming sector is improving “but there is still a long way to go”, the PAC said.