Is farming heading down the right path?
The Government has set out its plan for farming and land management post-Brexit. The Path to Sustainable Farming will take seven years and involves the transformation of how the sector is financially supported.
THE “most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years” will begin next year under plans unveiled by the Government last week.
Ministers say that freed from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, a new system centred on support that rewards farmers and land managers for sustainable practices will be introduced in the next seven years.
However, NFU officials warned farmers face great uncertainty during the coming years as the new system is brought in.
Starting next year, the Government will begin the move away from the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) as it sets out on its “Path to Sustainable Farming”.
Key changes include:
Introducing the Environmental Land Management scheme to reward sustainable farming practices, create habitats for nature recovery and establish new woodland to help tackle climate change
Investing in improving animal health and welfare, controlling or eradicating endemic diseases amongst cattle, pigs and sheep
Reducing direct payments, starting from the 2021 Basic Payment Scheme year, with the money released being used to fund new grants and schemes
Launching a Farming Investment Fund to offer grants for equipment, technology and infrastructure for the future
Simplifying and improving existing schemes to reduce the burden on farmers, cutting unnecessary red tape for farmers and working together with industry to design a more targeted regulatory system.
Unveiling the farming roadmap, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “If we work together to get this right, then a decade from now the rest of the world will want to follow our lead.”
He said the Government will engage with farmers, land managers and other stakeholders to finalise the design and operation of the future system to ensure they work for everyone.
Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, said: “More than two thirds of England is farmed and this plan paves the way for those who manage the land to produce healthy food alongside other vital benefits, such as carbon storage, clean water, reduced flood risk, thriving wildlife and beautiful landscapes for everyone to enjoy.”
Responding to Defra’s agricultural transition roadmap, NFU president Minette Batters said: “Expecting farmers to run viable, high-cost regulatory farm businesses, continue to produce food and increase their environmental delivery, while phasing out existing support and without a complete replacement scheme for almost three years is high risk and a very big ask.
“There are also many uncertainties during this policy transition, not least new trading arrangements after we leave the EU, as well as the national recovery from Covid-19, and the global challenge of climate change.
“Moreover, the long-running price war in UK retail often sees farming and growing caught in the crossfire.”
A national pilot to shape the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme will begin late next year and involve up to 5,500 farmers across England.
It is proposed payments under ELM will be made in three areas – support for practices which improve the environment, such as improving soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management; nature recovery schemes, such as creating, managing or restoring habitats and natural flood management; and landscape recovery, which will focus on projects such as large-scale forest and woodland creation, peatland restoration, or the creation and restoration of coastal habitats.
Other schemes proposed include a farming investment fund to help farmers invest in equipment and technology to improve productivity and more funding will also be made available under improvements to the Countryside Stewardship scheme.
But Ms Batters cautioned: “The rate at which direct support reductions will take place leaves English farmers with significant questions.
“These payments have been a lifeline for many farmers especially when prices or growing conditions have been volatile and will be very difficult to replace in the first four years of this transition.
“Ministers must bear these challenges in mind. They must also be mindful of the impact sudden drops in income could have, including seriously jeopardising the viability of a farm business,” she said.