Scrapping farm subsidies after Brexit is not the answer for farming communities, according to a prominent Cumbrian union official.

Many farming businesses would be forced to shut the farm gate if that happened, said west Cumbrian beef and sheep farmer, Alistair Mackintosh.

The National Farmers Union Cumbrian council delegate was speaking out after former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was quoted in a national newspaper at the weekend that Theresa May should follow the example of New Zealand, which ended government help for farmers overnight in the 1980s.

But Mr Mackintosh argued that farming communities would need a transitional period of ten years and more. “The tap could not be turned-off overnight,” he argued.

“We recognise there will be less money in the Common Agricultural Policy, so therefore we will need time to adjust our businesses and where support is required we will need it,” added Mr Mackintosh.

During the session at All Souls College, attended by Eurosceptics John Redwood, Iain Duncan Smith and Peter Lilley, Mr Paterson argued that there were “clear lessons to be learnt from the policy adopted by New Zealand which demonstrated that food production can increase when farmers are given the freedom to react to the market”.

But Mr Mackintosh said the British farming industry should not be compared to another country. “We should not be modelling ourselves on New Zealand. Whatever Brexit looks like it has to fit in with the UK farming industry.”

“At the end of the day, Owen Paterson where would he be if he didn’t come out with these outlandish statements?” he added.

Mr Paterson said in his statement that the rural collapse that was predicted in New Zealand predicted by some did not occur. There were only 800 forced sales from around 80,000 farms, and only around one per cent of farmers forced to leave the industry, he said.

However, he added that he believed that farmers should still receive taxpayer support, but it should be directed at areas such as the Lake District with specific needs, and where food production would not be economically viable without government help.

“Direct support in the past has been for farmers to deliver safe, traceable, affordable food,” said Mr Mackintosh.

“Support mechanism we need to make it clear how we want it delivered. Different sectors, different organisations are fighting for their own corner, they are fighting for titbits. We should be working together to ensure that the financial support is essential,” he added.

Minette Batters Minette Batters, deputy president of the NFU, said there was a lot of hype spoken about New Zealand. She added it was an entirely different natural environment, and after all the changes they had endured the highest rate of farmer suicides in the world.

But Mr Mackintosh said he was ‘disappointed’ with Ms Batters’ statement. “On suicides we will not be jumping off bridges if we don’t have support payments. We provide the most traceable, high quality food in the world, but it is at a cost to ourselves.”

Meanwhile, the Rural Payments Agency was pushing to get as many of the 3,000 outstanding Basic Payment Scheme payments out before the March 31 deadline.

That money was not expected to arrive in bank accounts until this week, by which time it will be clearer how many applicants are in line to receive bridging loans.

The RPA has indicated that bridging loans, worth 75 per cent of the total claims, will be sent out “from the beginning of April”, to those claimants who have not received their BPS.

It is expected that this will apply to well over 1,000 producers.

An RPA spokesman said: “We understand how important BPS payments are to farmers and are working hard to get money into bank accounts as quickly as possible.

“That’s why we will be issuing bridging payments for eligible farmers who had not received their full BPS 2016 payment by the end of March.”

The RPA says it has paid 96 per cent of farmers, surpassing its target to pay 93 per cent of farmers by the end of March.

The RPA announced at the end of January the 93 per cent target had been met early. However, this means only three per cent have been processed in the following two months.

Mr Mackintosh said there were still some ‘loose ends’ to tie up with the 2015 farm payments. “I am hoping going forward they (RPA) get a handle on it and address some of these.”