Rural business leaders have urged the new environment secretary to act swiftly to end damaging uncertainties over the government's flagship farm payments scheme.

Thérèse Coffey was appointed as environment secretary following new prime minister Rishi Sunak's cabinet reshuffle.

It marks a return to Defra for the Suffolk Coastal MP, who previously served as an environment minister in 2019.

Farming leaders said her first priorities must include getting Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes back on track - a system of green incentives aimed at replacing the EU's land-based subsidies, which are being phased out after Brexit.

Previous Defra secretary Ranil Jayawardena, appointed during Liz Truss' short tenure in Downing Street, had launched a review of this policy, sparking anger among conservationists that key environmental commitments could be watered down or reversed.

Cath Crowther, east regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East), "warmly welcomed" the new environment secretary, and urged her to bring some much-needed certainty to farmers.

"I recently spoke to Dr Coffey, also a constituency MP in our region, at this year’s Suffolk Show, and she is aware of the issues facing the rural and farming sector,” she said.

“Her in-tray is already full. The government’s flagship ELM schemes set out an ambitious and welcome direction.

"However, many farmers are yet to be convinced the schemes are right for their business, not helped by very poor communication from ministers about their intentions for the schemes through the recent political chaos.

“We call on Dr Coffey to work quickly to improve the schemes – not least by fast-tracking key elements of SFI (sustainable farming incentive) standards and announcing measures for 2023 and beyond.

"This will give farmers the confidence they desperately need that ELM can help them feed the nation as well as help to improve the natural environment."

Eastern Daily Press: Zoe Leach is the East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' UnionZoe Leach is the East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union (Image: Newsquest)

Zoe Leach, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union, added: “After months of uncertainty, farming businesses will be crying out for a clear steer on the government’s future strategy for agriculture and horticulture. They need to plan for the future.

“Spiralling costs and uncertainty about future support schemes are of particular concern for farmers in East Anglia and we need to hear what action the government intends to take.

“There are huge opportunities for farm businesses to increase our domestic food production, while acting as custodians of the countryside, if the government plays its part."