A transitioning landscape

The CLA hosted 20 events across England to provide members with more information and advice on the agricultural transition. Here we summarise the events and key questions asked
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The change in agricultural policy might not be at the top of everyone’s list at the moment, given the number of challenges the industry is facing.

While global uncertainties have been developing, the agricultural policy transition in England has continued into its second year, and it is important to keep up to date with the changes and what they mean for members’ businesses.

To help members understand the changes, the CLA ran 20 in-person Agricultural Transition Roadshow events during February and March, with almost 800 people attending. For many, it was their first opportunity to ask specific questions about their businesses and what the new policy and schemes would mean for them.

The agricultural transition

The events were based around the Defra Agricultural Transition Plan in England. This is the government plan for the new agricultural policy that will replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy. It is an ambitious programme that will phase out the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) over the course of seven years and introduce new environmental schemes to transform farming.

The events

The CLA Agricultural Transition Roadshow events aimed to raise awareness of the changes and new schemes, and to help members identify what is most relevant to their business. Specialists from the CLA’s national land use team presented an overview of the transition plan before outlining the key points of the emerging schemes. We were also joined by specialists from Defra, the Forestry Commission, the Rural Agency, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, local protected landscapes and the Farm Community Network. Rebecca Bridges, Defra Stakeholder Engagement Manager, says: “The CLA provided a well-balanced and informative presentation, which focused on food production, innovation and environmental schemes, but most importantly, what this means to farm and land businesses. The attendees provided valuable and detailed insight which will help develop our policies.”

Key insights from the roadshow

The agricultural transition is complex, with around 20 schemes being phased out or phased in, all with different timetables and application windows. Not all schemes will be appropriate for every business, so the key is to identify the relevant ones. The schemes can be simplified into three ‘bundles’– business support, farming schemes and environmental schemes. There is no one blueprint for all farm businesses, and the way forward will depend on individual objectives and ambitions. For some, it will be to focus on farming, for others, environmental delivery might be the right direction, and for many, a blended approach will be preferred. For others, it might be looking at alternative income streams from diversification or off farm work, restructuring the business or even leaving the industry.

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Common questions

This seems complicated – where do I start?

It can appear complex, but Defra is funding free advice for BPS recipients through the Future Farming Resilience Fund, which will provide help and support. What schemes are available now? The new environmental land management schemes will be fully available from 2024, but in the short term, there is support for farmers wishing to invest in their business through the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund and the Farming Transformation Fund, as well as access to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and the England Woodland Creation Offer. There is also a new Animal Health and Welfare Pathway that will be launching in 2022, alongside the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

Is it worthwhile looking at the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) this year?

The SFI is intended to be an easy-to-enter option available to BPS recipients. It is based on several ‘standards’, each with specific requirements. Each standard will have up to three levels, with increasing requirements. You can choose the standards and levels at which you wish to enter the SFI. The arable and horticulture soils standards, the improved grassland soils standard and the moorland and rough grazing standards will be launched this year. It is worth having a look at them because, while it might not be a lot of money, the requirements are quite straightforward and there can be other benefits of doing the work. More standards will be available in future years, and you will be able to build up several standards on the same land so that it may look more attractive.

If I go into Countryside Stewardship now, will I be able to switch to Local Nature Recovery?

The government has made a commitment that people entering agri-environment schemes now will not be disadvantaged when the new schemes are launched. The intention is that when Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements end after 2024, the land will enter into a new Local Nature Recovery agreement.

Will I be able to combine different schemes on the same land?

You will be able to enter land already in CS into the SFI, provided the options or standards are compatible and you are not being paid twice for the same thing. Defra has published guidance on how to combine schemes and which CS options are or are not eligible to be combined with SFI – search for ‘SFI standards agreement’ on gov.uk.

Will there still be inspections and penalties?

The government has started to reform its approach to inspections, enforcement and penalties. There will be a greater focus on achieving the aims of an agreement, rather than on penalising farmers for minor deviations. We are already seeing evidence of this in CS and BPS inspections.

More information on changes

The best place to get up-to-date information is directly from Defra through its emails and blogs. This is where Defra publishes new information, and you can be notified of the latest updates at defra farming.
As new schemes are launched, the best place to start looking is on the funding page.
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Agricultural Transition (England)

Click here for more information and guidance on the agricultural transition.

Key contact:

Susan Twining
Susan Twining Chief Land Use Policy Adviser, London