The CLA View

The latest column from CLA East Acting Regional Director Nick Sandford
Nick Sandford

At the Cereals 2021 agricultural show recently, Secretary of State for Defra George Eustice announced further information about the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme, which English farmers can sign up to from next spring.

Farmers will be able to earn up to £70 per hectare for actions to improve the health of their soil and livestock farmers will be eligible for a free vet-led annual health and welfare review.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is a new environmental land management scheme that will reward farmers for adopting more sustainable farming approaches.

Four guiding principles have been published which set out the approach to environmental scheme payments under the Agricultural Transition Plan. This includes new environmental land management schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive, pre-existing ones like Countryside Stewardship, and time limited schemes such as Farming in Protected Landscapes.

The principles are that:

  • Payments should provide good value for money and achieve ambitious environment and climate change outcomes. Payment rates will be set to encourage wide participation, fairly and effectively paying farmers for achieving these outcomes;
  • Payments should, as far as possible, pay for environmental outcomes by recognising and rewarding the full range of activities that achieve environmental and climate outcomes;
  • Payments should recognise the value of existing natural assets and do not unfairly disadvantage those who are already achieving good environmental and climate outcomes;
  • Payments should form part of a market for environmental outcomes where scheme participants can earn income from public and private sector sources.

If Government genuinely seeks improved environmental outcomes from the agricultural sector then it needs to ensure farming enterprises can survive and thrive in the first place.

The CLA has consistently argued for higher Countryside Stewardship payments, and called for Environmental Land Management (ELM) payment rates to be high enough to attract support from farmers across the country. It appears that Government is listening.

We welcome Government’s ambitions to roll out ELM schemes early in the transition, providing certainty and clarity to farmers who may already be struggling with reductions to their BPS payments.

But a word of caution. Many farms have not even started to plan for the major changes that reductions to direct payment will cause. This is especially the case on small farms that have less ability to diversify or intensify.

If Government genuinely seeks improved environmental outcomes from the agricultural sector then it needs to ensure farming enterprises can survive and thrive in the first place. It is vital that Government does all it can to support these businesses now and in the long term, incentivising farmers properly to embrace the full spectrum of ELM schemes and early notification of farming investment grants and advice programmes.

In other news, the CLA is delighted to have announced that it will be holding it Rural Business Conference in December (Thursday 2nd). One of the aspects of work I have missed the most during the pandemic is the opportunity to get out and about at events and hear more about the work of our members – so to have a conference like this in the calendar provides a real boost.

The conference theme - towards net zero: creating a low carbon rural economy – will look how it is possible to create a low carbon countryside. Landowners are on the front line in the fight against climate change. With a new agricultural policy designed to further improve the environmental impacts of land management, CLA members are already taking great steps to reduce their emissions.

But with the UK having legislated to become carbon neutral by 2050 and growing public concern over the climate emergency, it has never been more important to learn from one another as we seek to create a low carbon countryside.

The conference will hear from senior government figures including George Eustice MP, Secretary of State, Defra and Luke Pollard MP, Shadow Secretary of State, Defra, as well as farmers, land managers and rural business owners who are providing innovative ways to create an environmentally-friendly - but still profitable - rural economy.

Through this conference we aim to be provide a range of engaging content that will be both thought provoking and inspiring. We hope to see you there.