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Improving soil health will be among eight options farmers can select from a pilot version of the government’s the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Farmers to be rewarded for improving soil health

Improving soil health will be among eight options farmers can select from a pilot version of the government’s the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

Hundreds of farmers across the country will pilot the first tier of the ELM scheme later this year. Expressions of interest to participate in the scheme – called the Sustainable Farming Incentive – will be invited in the coming weeks.

Defra secretary George Eustice said: “Pilot participants will be able to select from an initial set of eight standards to build their own agreements and create greener landscapes and improve biodiversity in a way that is right for their own holding.”

The standards will be focused on natural assets based on specific features such as soils, grassland, hedgerows, water bodies, or woodland. Farmers will be able to choose which standards they want to apply for and where they want to apply them on their farm.

Important features

Mr Eustice said he wanted to properly recognise and reward important features looked after by farmers. He added: “The ethos at the heart of our future policy is to support the choices of individual farm enterprises.”

The ELM scheme is expected to be fully up and running by 2024. It will comprise three tiers – the entry level Sustainable Farming Incentive, a mid-tier local nature recovery option and higher level landscape recovery tier.

The scheme is important because it will enable farmers to recoup some income lost due to the abolition of the basic payment scheme, which is being phased out. BPS payments are being scaled back annually and will be gone completely by 2028.

Rather than paying farmers simply for occupying land – which was how the basic payment scheme worked, Mr Eustice said the ELM scheme would reward practices which maintained the distinctive character of the English countryside.

“We will expand the scheme in the years ahead – adding more standards over time as well as taking the first steps of a new animal health and welfare pathway standard; and we will also develop more innovative approaches like payment by results.”

Ambitious actions

The Sustainable Farming Incentive would focus on outcomes and improvements. Under the ELM scheme ambitious actions would be better rewarded. Farmers would be encouraged to work in partnership with conservation organisations or accreditation schemes to help delivery.

“We are going to make the early version of the Sustainable Farming Incentive open to all farms from next year but the work this year to pilot delivery will help us with implementation. We will be setting out more detail of the pilot in the coming weeks.

“By the end of June we will make sure that farmers have the details they need to prepare – so they can take a fresh look at the land they farm, the natural assets that they have and decide what will work best for their own individual holding.”

Defra hopes to work up plans for the Local Nature Recovery schemes this year, ahead of launching a pilot version in 2022. It will also release details of its Landscape Recovery scheme – with around 10 large land use change projects due to start next year.