Farming workshop tests the concept of ‘public money for public goods’
PUBLISHED: 16:50 31 January 2020 | UPDATED: 17:44 31 January 2020
A farming workshop at Holkham Hall explored potential options for how sustainable agriculture and forestry practices could be incentivised by the government after Brexit.
The event was part of Defra's official "test and trials" as it develops a new Environmental Land Management System (ELMS) as part of the policy to phase out the EU's system of land-based direct subsidies in favour of a new scheme which will reward farmers for "public goods", such as environmental measures, boosting wildlife or climate change mitigation.
The workshop at the north Norfolk estate, run by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), included discussions on how to measure environmentally-sustainable farming, how a potential points-based system for delivering public goods may work, and how private payments for ecosystem services could be considered.
Susan Twining, chief land use policy advisor for the CLA, said ELMS would have a broader scope than current agri-environment schemes, and there is still time for farmers to get involved in shaping its development before its anticipated introduction in 2024.
"Over the last 12 months we have really been working with government to help develop ELMS and shape what it is going to look like," she said. "The government has come up with a concept and they want to test their ideas with real farmers to make sure they are sensible and workable for the future.
"There are about 40 tests and trials across the country. The one we did in Norfolk was focusing on how we can encourage environmentally-sustainable farming, using less fertiliser and pesticides, reducing livestock emissions, or changing cultivation systems to improve soil structure and reduce leaching.
"Over the last 20 years, farming has become a lot more environmentally conscious and farmers are already using minimal pesticides and their nitrogen [fertiliser] use is better, but we are encouraging them to go a bit further.
"The definition of public goods which might fall under ELMS is quite clear, but how we deliver it is still not there.
"It is looking at new habitats for wildlife to increase numbers of birds, mammals and insects, but also it is about clean water and air, and ensuring the soil is in good quality.
"It is also going to cover climate change, with programmes to encourage the planting of trees and shrubs in a way which captures carbon and to reduce the emissions from farming in the way manures and livestock are managed.
"The test and trials phase will last another 18 months, but alongside that Defra will start to run pilots to test the system before it is introduced in 2024. It is a really good way that Defra is working to encourage farmers to get involved in tests and trials, because it is their opportunity to help shape the policies that will affect their businesses going forward."
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