Kevin Prince has wide experience of farming and rural business in Hampshire, where he lives near Andover, and across southern England as a director in the Adkin consultancy. His family also run a diversified farm with commercial lets, holiday cottages and 800 arable acres.

A form-filling constant throughout my whole professional career comes to an end very soon.

Since 1996, every May has seen me sit down with a list of field names, a calculator and, at varying times in my career an isotonic sports drink, bottle of beer, and, most recently, a large mug of tea.

Accompanying me in 1996 was a pile of more than 20 files, forms, and phone numbers for 20 odd clients (the number’s odd, rather than the clients!), whilst my shiny new tweed jacket rested over the back of the chair. More recently it has just been me and Dad and a very well-worn single paper file. For a whole generation of land agents and farmers the merry month of May has meant only one thing – subsidy forms!

Depending upon the age of the farmer or consultant these (oft-dreaded) forms will either be referred to as IACS, Single Farm Payment, or Basic Payment. I am showing my age by even referring to them as “forms”. In recent times the process has been very much streamlined and instead of me having to practice my very best print handwriting on official-looking green paper, we have been able to submit the necessary information in relation to field size, crops grown, and business details online in pre-populated electronic files.

I can still remember how carefully I filled in every single line of every green page of every form for every client. I checked each figure at least half a dozen times before checking the whole form three or four times prior to passing to a colleague to do the same. As belt and braces we would then drive to the Government Offices in Reading with boxes of forms carefully strapped into the car before coaxing each one out and presenting it to a thrilled DEFRA official who would also check every line in front of us. If the form was given the thumbs up you would then receive a precious black ink “READING RSC OFFICE” stamp on a tear off paper slip. These trophies were then triumphantly taken back to the office and carefully secured onto each client’s file; so much more satisfying than a bland email receipt!

This year will be the first that I will not complete a single form in any way since, for the first time in my whole career, subsidy payments that farmers receive this year are “de-linked” to the area of land or crops grown. Instead payments will be made by reference to previous historic claims. Yes, there are other schemes which provide payment for actions undertaken on the land or for growing certain crops and forms will be needed for those. But for the first time ever since graduating I could, if I wanted, take off as leave the last two weeks of April and the first two weeks of May without feeling a tinge of uneasiness.

The significance of the above is that farmers and landowners have now well and truly left the post war period of subsidy support for food production. As a nation we are pursuing policies of habitat re-creation, sustainable farming and environmental benefits ahead of direct support for the production of human and animal food.

The impact upon our economy, landscape, farming profession, and food security for the nation as a result of this policy shift will take some years to fully play out and understand. As it does farmers, and those who advise them, are looking at other ways to provide income to their businesses and looking forward to holidaying abroad in May, ending one era while starting another!