Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Concern grows over Defra plan for flagship green scheme

August 18, 2020 by  
Filed under News & Business

Farm leaders have demanded more details about changes in support amid growing concern that the government’s proposed environmental land management (ELM) scheme will lack clout.

The ELM scheme – which will largely replace the current system of basic payments to growers and livestock producers – is due to be rolled out in 2024. But frustration is growing over an ongoing lack of information about how it will work.

Rather than paying farmers according to the amount of land farmed, the new scheme will require producers to deliver improvements in soil, air or water quality – as well as habitats and wildlife – at the same time as producing food.

The NFU said the new scheme needed to be simple, flexible and accessible to all farmers and farm types across the country. It has called on the government to provide clarity on the details – as well as what schemes will be available to farmers during the transition period.

Call for details

NFU vice-president Tom Bradshaw said: “The consultation on the new ELMs has given us a great opportunity to get a range of views from our members through our website and in virtual meetings to form the basis of our submission to government.

“Although the consultation has provided an outline for a future scheme, many farmers expected more information on what that scheme will look like, particularly with pilots expected to start next year and the full ELMs roll-out in 2024.

“We urgently need Defra to provide further clarity. The NFU has always called for a smooth transition to future farm support post-Brexit and Defra needs to outline what schemes will be available during the transition before ELMs is fully available.”

Mr Bradshaw said the new scheme must recognise that farms were dynamic businesses. It should be simple, flexible and accessible to all farmers and farm types across the country, allowing farmers and growers to choose the sort of environmental benefits they deliver.

‘Disappointing’

“Payments also need to provide an incentive to farmers to take part and reward them for what they deliver for the environment,” he added. “Without viable farming businesses, who will protect and enhance our countryside?”

The Tenant Farmers Association described the Proposed ELM scheme as disappointing. TFA farm policy adviser Lynette Steel said the association supported the development of a new agri-environment scheme that would make public payments for public goods.

But she added: “This must not be developed in isolation from work which will support agricultural resilience, productivity and future profitability. There is much about how the government intends to address this wider landscape that we do not yet know.”

Proposals outlined by Defra so far were lacking in aspiration, said Ms Steel. They were also less  comprehensive than previous talks with Defra officials had suggested. The new scheme must be outcome focused, targeting the farmed environment and sustainable food production.

Adequate reward

The TFA says farmers should be adequately rewarded for the value of the benefits they provide, rather than simply being offered payments for their income foregone. Ms Steel also warned that the scheme must be open to tenant farmers, not just landowners.

“It is also essential that the scheme is relevant, not only to owner occupier farmers, but to tenants and others who do not own the land they farm. Only active farmers should be permitted to have access to the new scheme.”

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