Cows drinking from trough

Delayed post-Brexit farm funding scheme causes concern

Farming policy in England has been revised, putting climate crisis at core
15 December 2022 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

New farm funding scheme replaces CAP and rewards landowners for environmental contributions, but some fear plans have been diluted

In England's biggest overhaul of farming policy in 40 years, the EU common agricultural policy (CAP) is to be replaced with a new farm funding scheme rewarding farmers for tackling nature and climate crises.

Under CAP, farmers were rewarded based on how much land they farmed. The new plan, the Environmental Land-Management Scheme (ELMS), will reward farmers for participating in environmental schemes.

Six years after Brexit, and following a lengthy review, it has finally been announced that two schemes will be retained under ELMS: the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) which focuses on soil health and reducing the use of fertilisers and pesticides; and the landscape recovery scheme which rewards ambitious large-scale ‘rewilding’ projects.

A third, the local nature-recovery (LNR) scheme which would have rewarded farmers for creating habitats for breeding birds or restoring wetlands, for example, has been replaced by an adapted version of the existing Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme.

This decision has upset conservationists, who argue the ambitious goals of LNR should not be abandoned. Harry Bowell, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust said: “As well as offering a lifeline to our fast-declining species, it would see farmers rewarded for making space for nature, building resilience to climate change, and improving air and water quality, while opening up opportunities for private finance.”

The recent political instability and a desire to finetune details, alongside a lack of clarity surrounding payment rates for 2023, has left farmers frustrated, and critics say it could affect the uptake of the scheme, with further clarity not due to be announced until early in the new year. Critics are also concerned the environmental focus of ELMS has been diluted.

"The government has a once in a generation opportunity to bring food, farming and nature together in harmony, and stop treating nature as a bolt-on,” said Bowell. “Now is the time for doubling down, not watering down.”

“We do not have to choose between feeding the nation and good environmental stewardship. We can and must do both.”

ELMS has the potential to be world-leading, said Jonathan Roberts, Director of External Affairs at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA): “We do not have to choose between feeding the nation and good environmental stewardship. We can and must do both.

“It is vital that Defra gives farmers the confidence that ELMS will work for their businesses, particularly through timely communications of each scheme's standards and payment rates.  Any further delay to publishing the full details of 2023 schemes will harm take-up.”

Defra has reiterated its commitment to green reforms previously on the table, with Secretary of State, Teresa Coffey informing the (CLA) the recent review was carried out “in good faith” to “make sure that we achieve the greatest possible impact for our environment…and so that it is easy and attractive for farmers to get involved.”

This review is now complete, and the government is proceeding with the transition on the same timescale with “a range of options so everyone can find a combination that works for them,” said Coffey.

“We need to embrace the complexity that holds the key to getting the critical decisions right on how we can make the most of our land to achieve all the things we want to do from planting forests and protecting peatlands to producing food.”

David Exwood, Vice President, National Farmers Union (NFU) reiterated their commitment to working with Defra to improve the schemes “so farmers are able to continue producing sustainable climate-friendly food, as well as delivering for the environment.”

The NFU said ELMS should be available to every farm business “with options that couple sustainable food production with viable environmental measures and help deliver on our net zero ambitions. Above all, these schemes need to be simple, provide certainty and fairly reward farmers for taking part.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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