Providing Public Goods

The Agriculture Bill has clearly set out the Government’s intention to replace the Basic Payment Scheme with a system based on the principle of delivering public goods. Here the CLA’s Land Use Policy Team sets out what you can do to prepare. 

All businesses will face changes in the amount of direct payments received under the Basic Payment Scheme, which is going to be phased out by 2027. As part of the change, the government in England plans to introduce a new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs) with a contract for farmers and landowners to delivery environmental public goods such as managed habitat for wildlife, provision of clean water and air, as well as actions against climate change, and management of landscape character and public access.  The Welsh Government has also outlined its intention to develop a Land Management Programme based on delivery of public goods in their recent consultation on future agriculture policy.

The language of public goods, ecosystem services and natural capital can all seem quite daunting, but it is not as complicated as it sounds. Anyone who has been involved in previous environmental stewardship schemes has already been delivering public goods – essentially goods and services that are of value to society but do not have a market.

The new schemes are still in development and as more information becomes available, it will be easier to assess how the changes will affect your business. However, there are things that you can do now to start the process. Individuals will need to consider their own circumstances and business priorities as part of the process of identifying the right pathway.

To help CLA members lead the way in grasping the opportunities presented by Brexit, this article presents what industry can expect from the government’s Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) and what businesses can do now in preparation for the changes to come.

Devil in the details: development of ELMS

The new Environmental Land Management Scheme proposed by Defra and the Land Management Programme in Wales will be the way farmers are paid for the delivery of public goods under a contractual basis. There is not a great amount of detail, and what there is, is subject to change. Defra is running some small-scale trials to test ideas and will continue over the next few years along with a planned large-scale pilot.

Despite the uncertainty over the final design and possible payment rates, what is clear is that there will be more emphasis on environmental management and land use in the future and it is expected that it will be part of the mix for most farms. 

What changes are expected?

CLA are at the heart of these discussions and while there is still some way to go, there are some elements that are reasonably certain. This focusses mainly on ELMS in England as the Welsh Land Management Programme is still in consultation.

Wider offering

Previous agri-environment schemes such as Countryside Stewardship in England, have focussed most of its resources on managing habitats for wildlife. While this will still be a core focus, a wider offering of relevant activities is expected including a more integrated approach to woodland creation and management. The range of options might include;

·     Improving soil health

·     Reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions

·     Cleaner water

·     Educational visits

·     Heritage

·     Improving public access to aid in health and wellbeing

·     Carbon storage

·     Improved animal health and welfare

·     Thriving rural communities

Farmer driven and flexibility

There is also a clear push to increase flexibility for those participating in ELMS. There will be greater emphasis on individual farms identifying how they can deliver intended benefits as opposed to being told how to do so by complying with rigid scheme rules. It is a possibility that applicants will create a whole-farm plan which details what aspects they would like to focus on in various areas and the actions they will take to improve their delivery of the relevant public goods.

This should mean more flexibility and transparency for those participating and less of a focus on following specific prescriptive instructions currently expected as part of agri-environment schemes.

Standards and local priorities

A move to standards as opposed to rules is the intention resulting in more local variability as opposed to one set of national guidelines. This way local areas will not only have a greater say in what their priorities for delivery are, but also how guidance should differ across the country to deliver better outcomes locally and contribute more effectively to national objectives.

How to get ready for the future

The key question though is “what can be done now to prepare for delivering public goods?”  Keeping informed is crucial, as the scheme will be developed from lessons learned in trials and the eventual pilot.

Assessing your land

Take an honest view of your land and current practices. Undertake an audit of what you already have in terms of habitats and features, and consider what more you could do. How can you contribute to some of the objectives such as clean water, and carbon sequestration?  Ask what is the best use of the land, and know your current economic performance so that you can make informed decisions about when and where environmental land management might be a better economic option than the current land use. This could be provision of habitat for wild birds, woodland or move to permanent grassland. In particular, it is important to consider how these options fit with your current and future plans for your business.

There are some areas that can be difficult to assess, such as soil health, but work is underway to provide easy to understand measurements.

It might be worth taking advice to help with the audit and developing a plan for the future and a number of organisations can help. Speak to your local CLA regional office if you need more details.

Take advantage of grants available

It is important to keep up to date with the current grant schemes available, but this can sometimes seem like a daunting task when trying to find the information you require.  Make the most of your CLA membership and ask your Regional Advisers and Surveyors what grants are available to you as they can point you in the right direction.

·     It is as much about where to take your business as it is environmental delivery, so any decisions on environmental delivery has to fit within your business.

·     Current grants through Countryside Productivity, Growth and LEADER can help inspire and fund your plans

Get involved in current Agri-environment schemes and local initiatives

·     Don’t be put off by some mixed experiences others in current schemes. They are likely to be in place for another 4 or 5 years so there is value in renewing or registering. It will help build understanding and expertise, and is a useful income source.

·     Look to local environmental priorities for a flavour of what might be to come into the new schemes. Attend local meetings about environmental management on habitats, wildlife, water, air and soils, to build up knowledge. Register with Catchment Sensitive Farming and Farming Advice Service for details of local meetings, or look out for local organisations such as Wildlife Trusts, FWAG, GWCT and others.

Collaborate

·     Future schemes are likely to offer higher payments for collaborative schemes.

·     When it comes to landscape scale delivery of environmental benefits, working in collaboration with neighbours is more beneficial than working in isolation. Enabling the connection of habitats and environmental benefits with your neighbours delivers more for wildlife, water and soil. 

·     Investigate what there is locally, and if there is nothing, consider getting a group together yourself. There are a number of cluster groups forming across the country, led by a facilitator and coordinated by Natural England. For example the GWCT Farm Cluster groups: https://www.gwct.org.uk/farming/advice/farmer-clusters/

Stay up to date with CLA

·     Talk to your regional advisers about plans and ideas you have and for up to date policy developments.

·     Read our CLA Land Management Contract for further details

Conclusion

While not all has been decided on future public goods schemes, there are lots of steps that can be taken now to prepare. Along with this change in policy will come genuine opportunities.