This week saw the announcement of a series of government support measures for British farming. The measures were wide ranging and covered various policy areas, including the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and new grants under the Farming Investment Fund.
The headline measures included:
- Accelerated payments for SFI agreement holders.
- A second round of funding for automated and robotic farming equipment, worth £15m.
- A new £15m fund to encourage farmers to install solar equipment.
- A £4m Small Abattoir Fund to improve productivity.
The CLA has been lobbying Defra and ministers in recent weeks to address the cash flow implications of the delayed SFI roll out. The proposal to offer accelerated payments which will be paid in the first month for businesses signing up to the SFI in 2023 is a direct result of our work and should help to address member cash flow anxieties ahead of the December BPS installment. The SFI is due to begin accepting applications from 18 September when the controlled roll out begins. Businesses interested in applying for the scheme are required to submit a short expression of interest now, which is available here.
The announcement also included news on two new funding windows under the Improving Farm Productivity scheme, which are due to open later this year. One will be a second, £15m round of funding for robotics and automated farm equipment, with the other a new initiative - a £15m scheme to fund up to £100,000 towards the costs of rooftop solar equipment on farms. The CLA welcomes the announcement that, from later this year, farmers will be able to apply for funding to help install solar equipment. This will help farmers decarbonise their businesses, control energy costs and improve their business resilience. It will also help the agriculture sector contribute to meeting the government’s targets of a five-fold increase in solar deployment, decarbonisation of our whole electricity system by 2035 and a net zero economy by 2050. We look forward to more detail over the coming months.
The announcement of the Small Abattoir Fund, due to launch before the end of 2023 is welcomed and follows the CLA’s work on raising the profile of abattoir closures in recent years. The fund will be open to red meat and poultry businesses with an annual throughput of up to 10,000 livestock units including beef, pork and lamb, and/or 500,000 birds per year. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of local supply chains and local food outlets. The maintenance of local abattoirs is not only important in retaining the local nature of food production but is also important for animal welfare by reducing haulage distances. This has been an ongoing priority for the CLA. Protecting the abattoir sector underpins local supply chains which are important to members in developing niche markets. Reducing haulage times through shorter routes has the advantage of improved animal welfare as well as reduced costs for members.
The announcement also included a pledge to build on the commitment to keep producing 60% of the food consumed in the UK and to recruit five new agri-food attachés to unlock new trading markets. The CLA views these targets as unambitious. The self-sufficiency ambition should be targeted at sectors where self-sufficiency is poor, such as pork and fruit and vegetables. Competitors such as New Zealand put far greater resource into agricultural attachés to promote exports. The UK should be making a concerted effort to match this.
This meaningful package of support will provide further reassurance to farmers concerned about their cash flow, and will give confidence that the Sustainable Farming Incentive is worth entering into
"The CLA continues to engage robustly but constructively with Defra in pursuit of environmental schemes that work for farm businesses, food security and the environment" said Mark.
Following lobbying from the CLA, there have also been updates from the UK Government on connectivity and enablers for rural growth:
The government’s new £7m fund will pilot new technologies, for example, in satellite connectivity that will extend broadband coverage. This will allow for digital innovation to make a major difference in areas such as monitoring of new agricultural techniques through drone technology.
The decision to complete all procurement tenders by the end of 2024 under Project Gigabit provides far greater certainty that those rural areas currently outside the scope of Project Gigabit mapping, and unable to benefit from a fibre to premise connection, will gain access well before the 2030 deadline.
How the CLA achieved it
Over a period of two decades, the CLA has built up its credibility both with the telecoms sector and the Government. These relationships have been vital in lobbying for new ways broadband can be deployed. By working through government structures, such as the DCMS access to land workstreams, the CLA has been able to promote the overriding objective of universal coverage for both fixed line and mobile connectivity.
The appointment of Simon Fell MP as the new Rural Connectivity Champion provides a new focus for the CLA to lobby through the Rural Connectivity Forum which is chaired by the CLA.
The benefit for members
The introduction of new technology enables members to increase business productivity and ensure greater efficiencies. Digital innovation will reduce costs and encourage business growth.
Extending full fibre connectivity means that members will have access to the most up to date digital infrastructure as well as reinforcing social inclusion for rural communities.
Enablers for rural growth
Provision of suitable rural transport infrastructure is fundamental given the unique challenges facing rural communities. Labour shortages have a considerable impact on rural business, so the ability to get to work in rural areas must be seen as a priority. This has been recognised by government.
Rural deprivation is as much a concern as urban deprivation. Areas of deprivation highlight areas of the rural environment where wages are low, and skills development is a necessity. Government support to assist deprived areas through targeted investment can often change the economics of a rural area.
How the CLA achieved it
Rural enablers for growth need to be able to provide the right platform so policy decisions can be effective. These government decisions have been made as a result of long-term lobbying by the CLA. The planned changes underline the importance the CLA attaches to policy priorities presented regularly to government.
Benefit to members
We have recognised the importance of labour availability to our members’ businesses. Without an adequate labour supply, output is reduced and profitability is adversely affected. The government’s decisions will aid the provision of workers through improving their ability to travel to employment as well as the provision of more targeted skills funding.