The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has failed to produce evidence to back up its new policy which scraps Common Agricultural Policy payments for land with solar farms on.

Last week, Elizabeth Truss secretary of state for Defra, announced that CAP payments for farmers with solar developments would be cut to save the UK countryside from being “blighted by solar farms”.

Defra claims the CAP cut is the most effective way to “slow down the growth” of “over 1,000 ground-based solar farms expected by the end of the decade across the UK”.

The subsidy cut aims to make solar development “less financially attractive for farmers”, as Defra claims more UK land will be used for agriculture and food production as a result of the CAP cut.

However, planning consultancy Strutt & Parker states that the policy is “not much of an announcement” as it is “quite clear” that the cut will not affect the majority of solar farm developments, as leasing farmland to a solar developer means farmers are not in control of the land, and thus not eligible for the CAP, as “it is in breach of the rules.”

Solar Power Portal asked Defra what effect, if any, the CAP cut would have considering that it does not affect farmers leasing land to developers. A Defra spokesman replied: “Well. It’ll be an incentive to some people.”

He continued: “[The policy] is removing one of the incentives to use land that could be used for either growing crops, animals or food – it removes one of those incentives to turn that field over to solar panels.”

When asked why Defra is seeking to slow the growth of solar despite repeated, high public and MP support, the Defra spokesman said solar development “is DECC territory really”, noting the recent subsidy change to solar farms over 5MW in size and reiterated “it is really just about the placement of such installations”.  

When asked to provide the department’s modelling and data that were used to justify the decision, the spokesperson said he would “see what we have”. However, after repeated requests, Defra has failed to share any figures at the time of writing.

Defra also failed to respond in time to requests from Solar Power Portal for figures on how many “fields of wheat or grassland for livestock to graze” have been replaced with only solar panels, as claimed by Truss. Also for figures showing how many of the 1,000 ground-based solar farms expected by the end of the decade, cited by Defra in its press release, are on high-grade agriculture land with no biodiversity or part-farming plans, and no response was given when asked where the £2 million of taxpayers’ savings cited as a result of the CAP cut, is going to be reinvested.

Many industry observers from the farming and solar community have accused Defra of political football, using the Defra press release to appease UKIP defectors. When asked if the department was sure the policy is not just politically motivated, the Defra spokesman replied: “Yes. I am.”

The Defra spokesman also said the EU Commission was at fault for not including solar developments in the CAP ‘greening’ regulations, which would allow the small percentage of farmers independently developing solar on their land, to possibly still claim the CAP.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has refuted Defra’s claim that solar farms are harming agriculture. The union said: “Land can indeed be multifunctional, yielding an agricultural benefit as well as producing energy.”

NFU chief renewable energy adviser Jonathan Scurlock added that the CAP cut would actually leave many farmers growing crops at a disadvantage, with almost no difference to solar growth.

“This announcement represents a further loss of flexibility for farmers and growers,” said Scurlock.

“It is a shame that this has turned into a food versus energy debate about land use, especially when energy production, food production and biodiversity in solar farms most certainly can co-exist. The NFU has worked closely with the solar industry, government and other stakeholders to develop good practice guidance for both agricultural use and biodiversity in solar farms.”