The results of a survey carried out jointly by the CLA and Strutt & Parker have shed new light on farmers’ attitudes in England to the future of farming and the government’s new environmental schemes.
The Future of Farming survey showed that most are enthusiastic about delivering public goods, such as protecting and improving soil quality and managing land to increase biodiversity but remain cautious about signing up to schemes like the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Landscape Recovery. More than 200 respondents took part, of which 198 were landowners and managers in England,
Concerns have been voiced about the slow uptake of schemes like the SFI but the survey points to farmers being much more open to taking steps to improve their environmental management and enhance nature than is sometimes portrayed.
For example, while the number of respondents who have carried out a carbon audit during the past three years was relatively low (23%), 56% are already making plans to reduce the carbon footprint of their farming business.
Although the survey showed that only 40% of the respondents confirmed they have or were planning to enter the SFI within the next three years – which seems low considering the government’s target of getting 70% of farmers signed up by 2028 – nearly two-thirds have or intend to sign up to the more established Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
When asked how likely or unlikely they would be to deliver a series of public goods with appropriate schemes and payments in place, 88% said they would be likely or very likely to take action to protect or improve soil quality and 82% said they would be likely or very likely to manage land to increase biodiversity – two key elements of the existing SFI.
The public goods that farmers and landowners are less enthusiastic about delivering are supporting public access, managing land to reduce flood risk and restoring cultural heritage, although many of these are situation-dependent.
Over a third of respondents who indicated they would not be joining the SFI imminently said it was because the payment rates were not attractive enough given the costs of delivery, with 19% suggesting the process was too bureaucratic and 20% saying they wanted to see if the early stages were successful.
The results support the CLA’s continued call to Defra to provide more clarity on payment rates and to fast-track the launch of new SFI standards. The results will be used by the CLA to help inform government policy development.
These findings support the CLA’s call to Defra to fast-track the launch of new SFI standards and provide early clarity on payment rates so that farmers and land managers make informed decisions about the scheme.
CLA President Mark Tufnell says: “This survey provides useful insights into farmer and land manager attitudes to the environment and signals that while many farmers and land managers are focused on food production, they are still keen to take steps to protect and enhance the environment, given the right policies and payments.
“The 40% intention to enter into SFI is encouraging. When asked why they had not entered SFI in 2022, the responses pointed to concerns about payment rates, but more frequently it was about waiting for more standards to become available or waiting to see if it would be a success. Only 2% said they were just not interested.
"These findings support the CLA’s call to Defra to fast-track the launch of new SFI standards and provide early clarity on payment rates so that farmers and land managers make informed decisions about the scheme.
“Similarly, it is encouraging to see the level of interest in Countryside Stewardship. Defra should capitalise on this and ensure that the scheme remains available until the replacement Local Nature Recovery Scheme is ready for full launch.”
Rhodri Thomas, Head of Rural for Strutt & Parker, says: “The results of this survey are particularly timely, given the highly polarised debate around land use. Policy makers are looking to find a balance between food security, carbon sequestration, development and biodiversity and understanding how farmers feel about the challenges they face may help with policy development.
“The survey results point to farmers and landowners being open to embracing land management practices that will reverse biodiversity decline and tackle climate change, but uncertain about the current schemes on offer.
“There is also evidence that the most environmentally engaged land managers are the most focused on increasing productivity and trying new environmental schemes. This gives me encouragement that if we get the incentives and advice right, there is a chance of boosting food output, managing the environment better and boosting the rural economy. It is possible to do all three.”