The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has revealed that it is investigating nearly five hundred UK farms. All the investigations relate to the illegal claiming of EU farm subsidies.
Although specific farms cannot be named for legal reasons, the DEFRA reviews have identified a very widespread practice among British farmers of claiming subsidies in respect of non-existent livestock and crops.
‘This issue was initially identified in the UK,’ confirmed José Silva Rodríguez, head of the EU Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development – the body responsible for EU farming subsidies. ‘DEFRA uncovered the fraud because the UK has recently been reviewing each subsidy claim with a view to planning post-Brexit financial compensation. The problem, however, clearly exists throughout the EU.
‘EU subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy are obviously payable to farms anywhere within the EU,’ explained Señor Rodríguez to an emergency press conference. ‘There are over twelve million such farms, however. My team of four assessors in Brussels is therefore unable to individually scrutinise every claim – much less visit so many locations. We have thus relied very heavily upon technology.’
Señor Rodríguez went on to explain that the European Union’s Sentinel-2A satellite and the US Geological Survey/NASA Landsat satellites provided his department with high resolution ground images. Since 2014, artificial intelligence software had been used to analyse satellite photographs of the farms claiming subsidies.
‘This approach has proven to be extremely effective in assessing the crops being grown and the numbers and types of livestock being kept,’ concluded Señor Rodríguez, ‘although it’s now clear that the system has been highly vulnerable to abuse.’
A farmer from Kent, England is believed to have been the first person to exploit this EU assessment process to make a fraudulent subsidy claim, and Glossy News has obtained an exclusive interview with him on the condition of protecting his anonymity.
‘My granddad gave me the idea,’ the farmer admitted to our reporter. ‘When I was a kid, he told me how, during the Second World War, they’d used decoy tanks, aircraft and other fake structures to fool German aerial reconnaissance. The models were made of painted wood and canvas, and they tricked the Nazis into believing that there were concentrations of allied forces in areas where there were none. Granddad was involved in building the ones that helped Monty in North Africa, and similar mock-ups were critical to the success of D Day in 1944 as they led Hitler to believe that the allied invasion of Europe would be launched via Dover.
‘Fleeces cost more to shear than we get from selling them,’ the farmer continued, ‘and so there was no great loss in keeping them to make decoys. Initially, we constructed about ninety simple wooden frames and covered each with a fleece. From the air, anyone would have mistaken them for genuine sheep. Of course we moved the decoys around at night,’ he added. ‘We thought the bureaucrats in Brussels might get suspicious if each animal had remained in exactly the same place on every photograph.’
From these small beginnings, this lucrative subterfuge appears to have quickly spread across the UK and then throughout Europe – with hundreds of thousands of decoy sheep, cows and pigs beings erected in fields in view of the orbiting satellites.
‘The deception appears to have not just been confined to livestock,’ admitted Michael Gove MP, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. ‘The current DEFRA reviews are being undertaken by unannounced farm visits. This has led to the identification of many fields filled with thin, wooden sticks that have been poked into the ground and then sprayed green or yellow in order to look, on satellite photographs, like crops.’
Mr Gove also revealed how some farmers who received EU ecological subsidies had placed fake nests in trees – nests that contained cut-out, wooden birds of prey. The practice of painting concreted farmyard areas blue and then claiming subsidies for the development of wildlife ponds was also said to be widespread.
‘Even without the information from DEFRA,’ noted José Silva Rodríguez, ‘my department would have uncovered the fraud very soon. During the past two years, the demand for decoys has clearly outstripped the numbers that could be manufactured on individual farms. Underground commercial suppliers have thus emerged. It would have been impossible to keep this industry hidden from my staff indefinitely – even if a self-assembly, flat-pack cow had not become available from the Brussels branch of Ikea.’
‘I’m sorry that the scam’s been rumbled,’ admitted the Kent farmer who originally conceived the idea. ‘Decoy technology has developed rapidly since I made that first wooden frame and hung a fleece over it. These days you can get motorised decoys that will change their own positions – either by remote control or on a timer. Some even have mowers incorporated. I’ve even seen one decoy sheep that can be programmed to go “baa” in a variety of voices.’
Despite the recent revelations, the UK government does not appear to be particularly concerned. ‘I expect Brussels will whinge about the subsidies that have been fraudulently claimed by British farmers,’ Mr Gove concluded, ‘but then those bloody foreigners are always whingeing about something, and, after Brexit, we won’t have to pretend any more that we give a damn.’