Photo: Elizabeth Wake/Alamy
As part of the comprehensive overhaul of farming subsidies, UK farmers will be able to receive government funding for up to 280 different actions that protect the environment, from hedges to peatland maintenance.
The long-awaited announcement on Thursday shows farmers what to expect if they apply for government incentives, called environmental land management schemes (ELMs), worth £2.4 billion a year for this parliament.
Farmers welcomed the announcement as it provided clarity on the new payment plans that took five years to prepare and replace the EU common agricultural policy (Cap) post-Brexit.
Unlike the Cap, which provides incentives to farmers mainly based on the area they cultivate, the revision aims to reward farmers for conserving nature and improving the environment. But critics warned that large arable farmers will continue to reap the biggest rewards under the new schemes, with insufficient collection for small farmers and those in harsh environments such as upland and steppe regions.
Related: New farm subsidies regime could be great for nature if properly funded
Payout rates for most of the 280 measures were set in a 101-page document. The payments cover nearly every aspect of farming and aim to help farmers become more environmentally sustainable, use less pesticides and reduce pollution and other impacts on the natural world while producing more food.
Payments will vary greatly depending on the actions taken by the farmers. For example, farmers will be paid up to £537 per hectare to create fenland from lowland peat, and up to £1,920 per hectare to maintain the land to produce fruit to organic standards, £22 per hectare to utilize the soil and up to £10.38 to utilize the land. a skylark blueprint.
Some are extensive – £22 per hectare to add organic matter to the soil, or having green cover on at least 70% of the land during the winter – and some are as elaborate as £120 to £150 for the maintenance of sphagnum moss to capture and store carbon.
The prospectus will be reviewed by farmers who can “stack” different payments and incentives using as much as they can apply to their farms. The payments are aimed at providing “public money for public goods” to replace subsidies from the EU common agricultural policy and took nearly five years to prepare after the interim measures had mixed success.
Thérèse Coffey, minister of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, said: “Farmers are at the heart of our economy, they both produce the food on our table and are guardians of the land from which that food comes. These two roles go hand in hand, and everyone is responsible for producing food more sustainably while protecting the planet. We are accelerating the launch of our farming plans so that they can be financially supported.”
Applications for some payments will begin in February, others will begin in March, and some will be available later in the year and next year.
Officials said the application and payment systems have been modernized, making it easier for farmers to apply with forms that shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes without the need for professional help.
Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, which represents nearly 28,000 farmers, landowners and rural business owners, said: “This is a troubling time for an industry that has fortified years of turbulence and uncertainty. These standards and payout rates are largely in line with what is expected and will encourage many arable farmers to step into new farming programs. But for those who live in the steppes or the struggling hill farmers trying to make a living, there is little innovation in this.”
He added: “The move to pay for environmental delivery is welcome – it will benefit the planet, the public and the farmer over time. It makes the UK a world leader in greener agriculture. But this major change in agricultural policy is the result of hyperinflation, poor labor supply and constant extreme weather events. “Farmers’ interests couldn’t be higher and it’s the UK government’s job to make these programs accessible to all types of farms, giving the industry the confidence we need to make these plans work.”
Previous improvements to the payment regime, announced earlier this month, were widely criticized for being too small, and farmers were slow to take action. The Guardian reported that only 224 farmers received payments last year.
Sustainable agriculture experts said the plans did not go so far as to bring about the changes needed to save Britain’s natural environment, which has deteriorated after decades of intensive farming and a lack of focus on nature conservation.
Last week, the regulatory watchdog, the Office of Environmental Protection, criticized the government for failing in nearly every environmental measure. Martin Lines, head of the Eco-Agricultural Network, said Thursday’s announcement was positive but did not go far enough. “Individual actions alone will not achieve our climate and nature goals,” he said. There remains the need to unify actions to avoid a piecemeal approach.”
Gareth Morgan, head of farming policy at the Soil Association, added: “The government is failing to clarify how to reassure farmers to invest in the radical changes needed for a resilient and sustainable agroecological agriculture sector. We are facing a climate emergency and ecological collapse – There are elements to welcome in today’s announcement, but we have to stop poking around.”