UP TO £150m in support payments could be redirected from the richest farmers to projects to improve the environment after Brexit.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove wants to end the Common Agricultural Policy system of “direct payments” based on the amount of land farmed and move to an arrangement rewarding farmers for “public goods” such as environmental enhancements and investment in sustainable food production.

On Tuesday, Defra announced plans for a transition period lasting a number of years to enable farmers to prepare for the new system.

It also suggested that about £150m could be freed up for “public goods” in the first year through options including a £100,000 cap on payments, affecting about 2,100 farmers (two per cent of recipients), or a progressive reduction in payments affecting about 19,000 farmers (22 per cent of recipients) – 13,500 would lose less than £5,000, while about 300 with claims worth more than £200,000 would lose more than £75,000.

In line with its manifesto commitment, the Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament in 2022.

Launching a consultation on his plans, Mr Gove said: “As we leave the EU, we have a historic opportunity to deliver a farming policy which works for the whole industry.

“The proposals in this paper set out a range of possible paths to a brighter future for farming. They are the beginning of a conversation, not a conclusion and we want everyone who cares about the food we eat and the environment around us to contribute.”

Farmers, landowners and food producers will also be consulted on other uses for “public good” money, such as investment in technology and skills to improve productivity, providing public access to farmland and the countryside, enhanced welfare standards for livestock, and measures to support the resilience of rural and upland communities.

Minette Batters, NFU president, said farm businesses need to be productive, profitable and resilient to volatility. “While most British farmers would much rather farm without support, what we must be absolutely sure of is a level playing field. British farms cannot compete with others countries’ agricultural goods on the global market if we are disadvantaged.

“It is vital that we don’t start overhauling parts of the current system which support farmers in providing a healthy and affordable supply of food, without tested and operational alternative programmes and measures in place.”

The NFU now plans a series of regional meetings for members during the ten-week consultation period which ends on May 8.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said the proposals left many questions.

Tim Breitmeyer, president, said: “Our businesses can thrive outside the EU but we need to make plans, to adapt where necessary, and to invest where possible. Government has a responsibility to provide clarity and as greater certainty as it is possible to give. We will be asking Ministers for urgent answers on when they will deliver this.

“Our message is that in the short-term, only money that is clearly necessary for transitional measures should be taken out of the system, and no business, no matter how wealthy its owners are perceived to be, should face sudden and dramatic cuts.”