by Nic Rigby
BBC News Online
Large landowners across the East are benefiting from multi-million pound subsidies while small farms are often struggling to survive, a survey claims.
The eastern region has benefited from subsidies
The report also found that two of the biggest agricultural landowners in the region the Duke of Bedford (with his Woburn Abbey estate) and Lord de Ramsey (with land in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire) each collect about £388,000 in subsidies a year.
The Oxfam survey found that 75 farmers in Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire between them shared £16m in subsidy, with an average cereal subsidy of £213,000 per farm.
It found that eight farms in Lincolnshire received an average subsidy of £338,000.
The survey also reveals that the country's 15,000 smallest holdings receive about the same level of support as that provided to the biggest 224 holdings.
Estimated subsidy to rich agricultural landowners (Source: Oxfam)
Duke of Westminster: £326,000
Sir Adrian Swire: £200,000
Lord Iliffe: £331,000
Duke of Marlborough: £369,000
Duke of Bedford: £369,000
Earl of Leicester: £245,000
Lord de Ramsey: £377,000
Oxfam believes the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) encourages over-production of goods, but this has been disputed by farmers' leaders.
Oxfam's director of campaigns
Adrian Lovett said: "These big farmers are the winners from a system that fails almost everyone else.
"UK taxpayers' money is being used to line the pockets of the rich, while small British farmers are struggling to get by."
Oxfam has recommended a £20,000 cap on the level of subsidy any one farmer can receive and a redistribution of payments in favour of smaller farmers and the environment.
But Oxfam has been criticised for failing to point out that any reduction in subsidy for farmers would be likely to lead to an increase in the price of food in the shops.
Guy Smith, who farms 1,000 acres of land at St Osyth in Essex and receives about £100,000 in subsidy a year, said farmers were paid the same now as they were 30 years ago for wheat although other farming costs had increased by a vast amount.
County average cereal subsidy to each farm in four areas (Source: Oxfam report)
Cambridgeshire (16 farms): £195,000
Suffolk (21 farms): £191,000
Norfolk (30 farms): £203,000
Lincolnshire (8 farms): £338,000
"People take food for granted. Something the CAP has done is provide very affordable food for people," he said.
"You must also remember that farmers in the UK have to compete with farmers across the world who are heavily subsidised."
Michael Hart, who farms about 100 acres of land in Cornwall and used to run a farm in Northamptonshire, said he was pleased that Oxfam had started a debate on the CAP.
But Mr Hart, who is chairman of the Small and Family Farms Alliance, said he felt that the low and falling price of food rather than the CAP led to overproduction.
He said farmers had to produce more food to receive the same money.
Mr Hart said: "A lot of what Oxfam says is good, but people need to understand there are no simple answers.
Small farms in the Peak District
The Oxfam report says many small farmers in the Peak District are struggling to survive
Sue Jackson's beef and sheep farm in the Peaks National Park makes a loss despite receiving a small subsidy of between £3,000 and 5,000
Ed Bradbury's 260-acre dairy farm near Matlock in Derbyshire made a profit of about £4,320 in 2002.
"We need to decide what we want. If we decide we want cheap food, then we go for large farms. If we want family farms and greater animal welfare we need a more reasonable price for what we produce."
The National Farmers' Union has criticised the report as "inaccurate and one-sided".
NFU president Sir Ben Gill said: "Nowhere within this report is there any recognition of the benefits of the CAP reform - the most radical changes ever - and the benefits it will bring to farmers, society as a whole and the third world.
"The reforms will bring a more market-focused agriculture industry, vast environmental benefits, a fairer trading system that will break down trade barriers, and potentially less bureaucracy."