Pilot scheme will pay farmers to care for the environment

A farmer ploughing his field at Bayfield

A pilot scheme has been announced for the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will pay farmers for environmental work - Credit: Antony Kelly

Hundreds of farmers will help trial a new post-Brexit payment scheme which aims to reward their efforts to protect nature and tackle climate change.

Environment secretary George Eustice said a pilot will begin this year for the Sustainable Farming Incentive, one of the three tiers of the planned environmental land management scheme (ELMS) set to replace EU subsidies after Brexit.

He said the scheme will be a financially attractive way to support nature-friendly approaches to farm husbandry so it will be "a no-brainer" for farmers to sign up.

East Anglian farmers have called for more details on the payment rates for the pilot, which was announced at the annual National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference.

It is hoped hundreds of farmers will help trial the scheme, which allows them to choose from a range of standards for landscape features such as grassland, hedgerows, water, woodland and soil.

"The key is making it attractive enough financially so that it becomes a no-brainer to join us and that's exactly what we intend to do," said Mr Eustice.

"Every farmer, whether they recognise it or not, does have environmental natural assets on their home. And we want to pay them and reward them for managing those assets in the right way."

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More details will be released in the coming weeks, added Mr Eustice.

Environment secretary George Eustice

Environment secretary George Eustice has announced a pilot for the Sustainable Farming Incentive, a post-Brexit green payments scheme - Credit: Denise Bradley

Concerns have been raised about funding for future farming payments, with the old EU subsidies, based on the amount of land farmed, being phased out over the next seven years, while ELMS is not due to be fully rolled out until 2027.

An early version of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which forms part of the ELMS scheme, will be launched in mid-2022 and expanded over time, said Mr Eustice.

NFU East Anglia's regional environment adviser Rob Wise said farmers would welcome the pilot scheme, but they needed more details as soon as possible. 

“It shows Defra has been listening to the NFU’s concerns about a funding gap during the agricultural transition period," he said.

“We look forward to finding out further information about how farmers in East Anglia can get involved in developing a scheme that will deliver for them and for the environment.

"We urge Defra to communicate more details, including information on the payment rates associated with the new scheme, at the earliest opportunity.”

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