Farming News - New ELM schemes need more clarity & must incentivise sustainable food production

New ELM schemes need more clarity & must incentivise sustainable food production

06 Jan 2022
Frontdesk / Renewables

DEFRA will usher in what it hopes to be ‘a new era of sustainable farming’ as it unveil plans for two new environmental land management schemes to help remedy declining biodiversity.  

Under the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape schemes, farmers and landowners will be rewarded for embracing environmental land management practices that contribute to nature recovery and sustainable food production.

Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has said in response to the new schemes:

“Today’s announcement of two new schemes under the Environment Land Management (ELM) plan marks an important point in the future development of England’s agriculture policy.

Both the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes have the potential to be transformative and bring England closer towards the Government’s environmental goals. 

The schemes clearly indicate that the wants and needs of farmers and landowners have been heard by Government. But this is just the beginning of a highly ambitious and progressive plan. The real work now begins on delivering these schemes successfully. Most importantly, it is incumbent of Government to ensure greater detail is shared on how this transition to the new schemes will be carried out. 

Land managers will need support to access these opportunities, and we must remember that individual businesses are at the heart of these changes. All are unique in terms of farm type, location, size, and management technique. Businesses more reliant on farming will be more at risk, and not all businesses have the same opportunities for ELM or diversification. Tailored advice that is accessible to all recipients is required to ensure that the transition does not have unintended consequences and result in viable operations going out of business. 

These schemes are by no means a silver bullet. The Government must also ensure that policy changes look towards domestic food production and security. Britain is already at the forefront of agricultural innovation and animal welfare standards, and we must do more to ensure our great produce is supported here and abroad. We need to ensure that profitable agriculture remains a core part of the rural economy and feeds the nation sustainably.

Landowners must be at the heart of green transition policy-making decisions. 2022 will be a crucial year, and the CLA will continue to work with Defra to ensure the ambition set out in this week’s announcement is deliverable by farmers and land managers on the ground.”

NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw said: “British farmers are proud to produce climate-friendly food to some of the highest standards in the world, alongside maintaining and protecting the great British countryside, its air, water, soils and its wildlife.

“We welcome today’s further clarity on the roll-out of the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery as part of the agricultural transition, including scheme eligibility and option-based approach available to farmers to support activity such as the creation of wetland habitats and managing trees and woodlands. The increases in payment rates for new Countryside Stewardship agreements are also welcome.

“The NFU has always maintained that the ‘public money for public goods’ approach must focus on sustainable food production and environmental delivery going hand-in-hand. While it is encouraging that sustainable food production is recognised, there is still a lack of detail on how it fits in with the schemes’ ambitions to improve farm biodiversity, restore peatlands and manage woodlands. This lack of detail is preventing farmers from making crucial long-term decisions that are essential to them running viable and profitable businesses.

“There are still a number of questions that need answers, not least the costs farmers are likely to incur from participating in these new schemes and how the schemes are accessible right across the country and for every farmer. Currently there appears to be a lack of options for tenant farmers to get involved and this must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“It is also clear that neither Local Nature Recovery or Landscape Recovery will be widely available to farmers over the next three years, making it difficult to replace the falling income from BPS. To remedy this, farmers must have more detail about the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), specifically when will SFI ‘early rollout’ be launched this year and how quickly can the SFI offer be increased to enable greater uptake, so they can make the important decisions needed now which will affect their business for years to come.

“Only by ensuring these schemes incentivise sustainable food production, allow every farm business to be involved, and pay farmers fairly for the costs they incur, will they attract the participation the government envisages to deliver our collective environmental and net zero ambitions.

“At a time when public support for British food and farming is at a high, our biggest concern is that these schemes result in reduced food production in the UK, leading to the need to import more food from countries with production standards that would be illegal for our farmers here. This simply off-shores our production and any environmental impacts that go with it and would be morally reprehensible.”