• Since Brexit, the Government is phasing out the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, with its Basic Payment Scheme ending in 2028. Instead, new incentives are being implemented called Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs). These are intended to reward farmers for ‘public goods’ such as environmental improvements and animal welfare.

    In February, the Government introduced its latest updates to ELMs for 2023. Brachers’ commercial lawyer Alex Cosgrove takes a look at what these mean for rural businesses…

    Sustainable Farming Incentive

    The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) now has a further six standards, making the full list:

    • Arable and horticultural land
    • Arable and horticultural soils
    • Improved grassland
    • Improved grassland soils
    • Integrated pest management
    • Hedgerows
    • Low input grassland
    • Moorland

    Each standard has varying actions, which a farmer may choose in any combination, and differing payment rates.

    If your SFI application is accepted, you will need to enter into an SFI standards agreement under which the payments will be made. Each agreement will last three years, with the annual payment paid for in four quarterly instalments. There is also scope to add further actions to pre-existing agreements, allowing farmers to make the most out of the scheme.

    Country Stewardship Scheme

    The Government originally planned to introduce the Local Nature Recovery scheme. However, last December, it confirmed that focus will instead be on growing the Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme which pays farmers for carrying out environmental work alongside food production. Under CS, roughly a further 30 actions will be available to farmers by the end of 2024.

    Additionally, the Government plans to introduce Countryside Stewardship Plus which will reward farmers for working together to support environmental aims.

    Currently there are similar actions available under both SFI and CS schemes but payments will not be made for duplication.

    Landscape Recovery

    Farmers may also apply for the Landscape Recovery scheme. Projects under this scheme are intended to be longer-term and larger-scale than under other schemes, involving more collaborative between farmers. Farming projects in the upcoming round of applications should focus on net zero, habitat creation and protected sites. The Government is set to fund 25 projects under this scheme.

    Response to ELMs

    Since their roll-out in 2022, there has been widespread criticism of ELMs. Farmers have felt that the Government’s approach has been disjointed and too little (reflected in the lack of uptake). Some suggest that these schemes insufficiently address the environmental challenges we are facing, and a joint approach is needed rather than individual actions.

    Lack of clarity was also noted as an issue. The Government has looked to address this with the documentation provided alongside the 2023 update, which contains information on payment rates and the full range of actions available. It is hoped that this will be more straightforward, encouraging farmers to apply for the schemes. Alongside this, the application and payment process has been streamlined to make it easier for farmers.

    There has also been discontent among moorland and upland farmers. Payments available to them under ELMs fall far below what they previously received from the EU. The scheme, they argue, has not adequately supported and provided options for them. Instead, it has further helped the larger scale arable farmers. It was hoped that this would be addressed in the 2023 update, however new actions haven’t been introduced for these farmers. This is of particular concern.

    That said, the schemes are still evolving, expanding, and being revised. They will be finalised and fully implemented in 2024. We wait to see what the future holds…

    This article was first published in the July 2023 edition of South East Farmer.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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