The government will slowly take cash offers for its post-Brexit green programs, while doubling payments to farmers to build fences.
Farmers will also be given £1,000 to participate in the most fundamental of green farming programmes, which replaces the European Union’s £2.4bn subsidy regime.
But green groups warn that the Government is diluting the ambitions of post-EU plans aimed at paying farmers for actions that bring public benefit to the environment.
Agricultural groups also criticize the lack of clarity about the future of the plans, which they say are pushing farmers to intensify damaging food production while milk and wheat prices are high.
The NFU warned that the changes had “little risk of being late” and criticized the continued lack of certainty about the future of the plans, which were reviewed several times during the recent political turmoil.
“Farmers are reacting to the market they can see and intensify their production, which has negative impacts for the environment,” said Martin Lines, president of the Eco-Agricultural Network. “They’re looking at how they can maximize some crop production and increase the number of animals.”
Fear payout will reward farmers for holding land
The government wants the core element of the post-EU programme, known as the promotion of sustainable agriculture (SFI), to attract 70 percent of the UK’s nearly 200,000 farms by 2028. However, only about 1,980 farmers applied for the programme. with about 1,570 active deals.
The government hopes the new “management pay” of £20 per hectare, up to £1,000, will attract more farmers to the programme.
But there are fears that the payment will reward farmers for owning the land without any additional benefits for the environment.
“Uniform, flat rate payments like this provide no incentives to farmers who want to do what’s best for the environment, while those who work at the minimum get exactly the same pay,” said Professor Ian Bateman of the University of Exeter. Post-Brexit payments known as the Environmental Land Management Plan (ELMS).
Dustin Benton, policy director at think tank Green Alliance, said: “ELMS is not just about getting farmers to sign up, it’s about delivering public goods.”
Announcement of new range of actions where farmers can be paid
The government has yet to say exactly how ELMS will contribute to its statutory targets to halt the decline in species by 2030, reduce water and air pollution, and reduce carbon emissions by 78 percent by 2035.
A new set of actions that can pay farmers are expected to be announced later this month. But green farming groups fear that the Government’s ELMS plan is in the process of diluting its goals and will allow farmers to take minimal actions they say will not help the UK meet its nature remediation goals.
In plans announced on Thursday, the Government said it would also increase farmers’ payment rates for certain green actions amid rising input costs for farmers following the war in Ukraine.
Payments will be doubled to build fences that attract birds to farmland, improve soil erosion and increase carbon sequestration.
Pay will be increased by an average of 10 percent for actions such as planting land in strips containing bird seed mixture and creating shrubbery.
The announcements were made by agriculture minister Mark Spencer at the Oxford Agriculture Conference on Thursday.
We provide a generational change for British farming
By Mark Spencer
The start of a new year is an opportunity to look at what we hope to achieve in the coming months, as well as to reflect on what has brought us to this point.
The past year has been tough for farmers, as increased fertilizer costs as a result of the war in Ukraine, drought conditions in the summer, and the Avian Flu epidemic posed significant challenges.
In response, the Government has taken measures to provide much-needed support, including introducing the Energy Bill Assistance Plan to cut costs this winter, and paying bird flu compensation from the beginning rather than the end of the planned culling.
However, as both a farmer and agriculture minister, I am incredibly excited about our agriculture in the UK and what’s on the horizon for the bright future ahead.
Farmers have long been held back by inappropriate EU bureaucracy and regulations and do nothing to support sustainable, eco-friendly food production.
We are now enabling a generational change as we move away from EU-style land-based subsidies and move forward with our new Environmental Land Management programs that are already helping thousands of farmers open space for nature alongside food production.
We take advantage of this unique opportunity and shape our policies according to the needs of both the country and our farmers who are responsible for realizing it.
This means adequately rewarding farmers for their individual actions, as guardians of our countryside, for the benefit of all of us.
Our goal of stopping nature’s extinction by 2030 can go hand in hand with maintaining profitable and resilient businesses, so we’re making more money for farmers through our plans this year.
From 1 January, we are increasing the payout rates for our Rural Management plan, which will benefit not only new entrants but also most of the 30,000 farmers already enrolled in the programme.
Payments for ongoing work such as reinforcing habitats for pollinators and providing winter food for birds by actively managing hedges will increase by an average of 10 percent, while one-off payments for individual projects will increase by an average of 50 percent.
The cost of building new fences will nearly double, and many benefits will not be felt, including less soil erosion, better drainage, greater carbon sequestration, and new habitats for birds and insects (thus reducing the need for expensive pesticides). not only the environment, but also the farmer.
We’re also introducing a new management payout of up to £1,000 a year for the thousands of farmers who have already signed up for our new Sustainable Farming Incentive – but this will help small businesses, many of whom are tenant farmers, cover their administrative costs.
We will not pay this by borrowing or paying extra taxes. We stand behind our manifesto commitment to keep the agriculture budget at its current level for the remainder of this Parliament.
Instead, funding for our eco-friendly programs will come from the phasing out of Direct Payments, a legacy of our time in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which pays half of that cash to the top 10 percent.
A far cry from the days when my father and grandfather paid governments to remove fences to cut production from every inch of farmland.
Much has changed since then, and we now know that increasing food production sustainably is only possible by working with and protecting the natural environment.
What hasn’t changed, however, is our farmers’ appetite for hard work and innovation. In fact, some farmers are already doing these and it’s breaking ground for others to follow.
As a former president of the Young Farmers Club at the turn of this century, I encourage every farmer to do their part and make sure our magnificent landscapes are still there and cultivated by the next generation for the next generation.
Mark Spencer is the Secretary of State for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.