Farming groups unite to draw up ‘roadmap’ for green payments policy

PUBLISHED: 11:34 09 October 2020 | UPDATED: 13:00 09 October 2020

Farming groups have published a sustainable farming 'roadmap' which they hope will form the basis of the government's post-Brexit ELMS policy. Pictured: Cattle grazing on marshes near the River Yare.  Picture: James Bass

Farming groups have published a sustainable farming 'roadmap' which they hope will form the basis of the government's post-Brexit ELMS policy. Pictured: Cattle grazing on marshes near the River Yare. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2016

Farming and countryside groups have joined forces to produce a detailed “roadmap” for future environmental payments – in the hope it can fill the gaps in the government’s post-Brexit policy plans.

Rob Wise, NFU East Anglia regional environment adviser. Picture: NFURob Wise, NFU East Anglia regional environment adviser. Picture: NFU

Defra is preparing to replace the EU’s largely land-based subsidies with a new system called ELMS (Environmental Land Management Scheme), which will instead use public money to reward farmers for “public goods” such as environmental work or enhancing animal welfare.

But with the seven-year phase-out of the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) due to start next year, farmers have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of clarity about the replacement scheme, which is scheduled for a national pilot next year and full roll-out in 2024.

Defra says more details will be published on ELMS next month.

But in the meantime, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has joined with a host of other organisations to set out the industry’s proposals for a new sustainable farming policy which they say “should form the scope and approach of the government’s forthcoming ELMS programme”.

Defra environment secretary George Eustice. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDefra environment secretary George Eustice. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The “Sustainable Food and Farming Scheme” (SFFS) has been put forward by the NFU, the Country Land and Business Association, Tenant Farmers Association, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Sustainable Food Trust, The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, Commercial Farmers Group, National Sheep Association and the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs.

A joint statement from the organisations says: “As representatives of British farming, we wanted to produce a scheme that can provide a roadmap for government of how to best harness the potential of British agriculture to produce food and care for our environment, wildlife, land and animals.

“Fundamentally, we do not want farmers or land managers to face the dilemma of producing food or conserving their land.

“That is why our Sustainable Food and Farming Scheme outlines how farming can be both competitive and environmentally responsible, incentivising actions that grow productivity with less environmental impact. It is, in a word, sustainable.”

The 21-page SFFS framework outlines a three-tier system, broadly mirroring the ELMS structure proposed by Defra, which suggests a universally-accessible first tier – now known as the Sustainable Farming Incentive– paying farmers for actions such as catchment sensitive farming or soil health schemes, while the second tier would be similar to the existing Countryside Stewardship scheme, helping land managers target environmental priorities over a wider area, and the third tier would focus on “landscape scale” projects.

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A fundamental part of the SFFS vision is the delivery of two complementary objectives – “building management capabilities” and “core environmental sustainability” – enabling farmers to deliver more with less input and impact, making them “more resilient, sustainable, and productive”.

Rob Wise, environment adviser for NFU East Anglia, explained that this approach recognised that many of the actions on farms may require extra business support such as capital grants, planning advice, productivity grants, training and skills development.

He said: “Basically what we are saying is that within this first ‘Farm Tier’ of the scheme, while a lot of people have already embraced sustainable farming, either on a voluntary basis or through Countryside Stewardship, there are a lot of people who are still on a journey. We need to reward them for stepping up a gear in that journey where, as part of building their management capabilities, they will have to be able to understand the baseline of what they have got on their farm, and develop a management plan for what they can deliver. It is going in a slightly different direction to traditional environmental stewardship, which is all about options and outcomes. This is about upping the skills level to deliver the environmental goods.

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“The second objective, core environmental sustainability, would look at optimising efficiency and the traditional land management options where we are intervening over and above your traditional farming to meet management objectives. That could be through soil health, catch and cover crops, or it could be the boundary and field corner stuff as well. In order to get into that first tier, you would have to show you are delivering 20pc of your points through building management capabilities, and the rest through environmental delivery.

“It is a points-based system which will reward increasing farmers’ environmental skill levels, while also focusing for the most part on delivering environmental outcomes.

“So far, it has not been apparent to us what the detail Defra is likely to provide will be. So we have given them our blueprint for what we would like to see, and we are pleased that appears to be lining up with some of their recent pronouncements.”

Earlier this week, Defra secretary George Eustice said a document would be published in November giving more detail on the “full journey” for ELMS.

He added: “Tier One, which we are now calling the Sustainable Farming Incentive, will be about supporting farmers to take a holistic approach to sustainable farming. It could include catchment sensitive farming schemes, integrated pest management, soil health schemes and measures to promote that.

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“Then the second tier would be in a similar space to the existing Countryside Stewardship schemes, but simpler and less bureaucratic, with less onerous administration.

“And the third tier which will be around ecosystem services, supporting woodland creation, peatland restoration and so forth. That has always been in the design of the scheme, and we have always recognised that Tier One will need to be universally open to all farmers so they can see a way of recouping some of their lost BPS through a new scheme.”

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