Delivering public goods can be achieved in conjunction with profitable and sustainable farming

Sophie Dwerryhouse, Midlands Regional Director takes a look at recent key announcements
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It’s been an interesting start to the year following eagerly awaited announcements about the agricultural transition, which were set out at the Oxford Farming Conference on the 4th January by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Secretary Steve Barclay.

New farming schemes are taking over from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to enable farmers to deliver positive outcomes for the environment, while boosting sustainable food production.

Farmers and landowners have an invested interest in the environment and they need to play their part in helping to tackle climate change, they also need to be able to run viable, profitable businesses. As we have said before, it doesn't have to be a choice between one or the other.

The CLA has been working hard with DEFRA on the detail behind some of these improvements which include suggestions from farmers and CLA members.

The improvements include a 10% increase in the average value of agreements in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship (CS), approximately 50 new actions including actions for agroforestry and one streamlined application process for the SFI and CS Mid-Tier, enhanced payments for habitat ‘creation’ and ‘maintenance’ options to help habitats and premium payments for actions with the biggest environmental impact or benefits at scale.

A number of these improvements have come from directly from CLA lobbying efforts including payments for access and more and improved options for upland and grassland farmers. Carbon audits and natural capital assessments will also be funded from this year.

The aim of these improvements is to bring more farmers onboard and facilitate a greater environmental impact.

It has been a politically and economically challenging time with lots of uncertainty for the farming industry, who have shown true resilience. This significant update of new actions and payments are really encouraging.

However, there are concerns with the delivery of Environmental Land Management Schemes and the CLA continues to raise this with Ministers, DEFRA and the Rural Payments Association.

Applications for the latest set of actions and for Countryside Stewardship will not be open until the summer at the earliest, and further testing is required on the application system to ensure that it can deal with the new options. With BPS being cut by 50% and the earliest payment for new actions being issued at the end of 2024, the CLA are concerned that this will create cash flow issues for farmers and plan to maintain pressure on the government, DEFRA and the RPA.

In the coming months we will support farmers and landowners further, continuing to lobby government and other organisations to get BPS cuts and the ELMs rollout back in sync, giving a better and more secure outcome.