Rural communities are running out of patience with the government and confidence in the success of its Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme is about to disappear, CLA President Mark Tufnell told members at its annual conference.
At the 2022 CLA Rural Business Conference in London, with Defra Secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey in attendance, Mark said that the delays to the rollout of the ELM scheme are unacceptable and compared the lack of clarity on payment rates to “buying something from the shop without knowing the price”.
He said that confidence in the scheme’s success is on the brink of “disappearing forever” across the farming industry.
Referring to the CLA’s constructive relationship with the government, he said: “We have held government’s feet to the fire, communicated robustly and negotiated hard, but we have done so in a way that never loses sight of the end goal: that being paid for environmental delivery is the right thing. That improving our soils and boosting nature is the right thing to do.”
However, he warned: “It is getting very difficult to sell this proposition to farmers at large when the government in England has failed to promote its own message effectively.
It is unacceptable that payment rates for the new options in the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Local Nature Recovery have not yet been published, particularly for those that relate to 2023, which is less than a month away.
“Two years into the transition, and after promises of early introduction of the SFI to help manage the move away from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), members still have no clarity on what will be paid beyond what was made available for 2022, or the payment rates themselves.
“You don’t buy something from the shop without knowing the price. You don’t invest in a new business without knowing the outlay.
You don’t, as a farmer, enter into new environmental schemes without knowing whether it will be worth it for your business.
He also criticised the government’s track record in supporting rural businesses across the country, pointing towards a planning regime that seems “designed to hold the rural economy back,” a lack of affordable housing driving away young people, and infrastructure and connectivity preventing many from even “operating in the 21st century”.
Mark called on the government to match the ambitions of rural business owners across the country, adding that 12 years since the Conservatives came to power, he cannot see how the policy landscape has improved.
“There is nothing Conservative about holding rural businesses back,” he said. “There is nothing Conservative about letting rural communities fail.”
Dr Coffey confirmed to delegates that the review into ELM has concluded and said that its purpose was to “secure the biggest bang for our buck in the way we spend public money and that it is easy and attractive for farmers to get involved.
She said: “We want to give you the certainty you need to plan for future investment cycles.
“I am pleased to tell you that the review is now complete and that we are moving ahead with the transition on the same timescale and with three schemes.
“All the funding that we are taking out of reductions in BPS will continue to be made available to farmers through a combination of one-off grants and ongoing schemes and the advice you need to get your business on the right footing for the future.
As we make those planned, steady reductions to BPS payments we will pay you to take action through our three environmental land management schemes.”