Government announces details of Sustainable Farming Incentive

Environment secretary George Eustice has detailed the importance of the food industry to the Government’s levelling-up agenda. He outlined opportunities to enhance profitable agricultural production and increase food security, alongside delivering on environmental priorities to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change.

Government announces details of new Sustainable Farming Incentive

Speaking at the Country Land and Business Association conference, Mr Eustice said: “There is a food manufacturer in every parliamentary constituency in the UK – except Westminster. These manufacturers provide employment opportunities in areas where there might otherwise be deprivation. They offer opportunities to apprentices; they invest in research and development and they give local areas a sense of pride and identity.”

The environment secretary also shared further details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive – the first of the new environmental land management schemes – which will be rolled out next year.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive will bring together a wide range of actions that farmers can take to deliver improved outcomes for the environment into a set of universal standards. Initially, farmers will be able to select from three standards:

  • The Arable and Horticultural Soils standard offers between £22–40 per hectare and includes activities such as testing of soil organic matter.
  • The Improved Grassland Soils standard offers between £28–58 per hectare for activity including producing a soil management plan or herbal leys on at least 15% of land.
  • The Moorland and Rough Grazing standard offers £148 fixed per agreement per year, plus an additional variable payment rate of £6.45 per hectare.

Under the plan farmers will be able to access up to £58 per hectare for improving soils from next year. As the rollout progresses, the government says they will include further standards to deliver wider environmental outcomes, such as improving hedgerows and combining trees or shrubs with crop and livestock farming.

Farmers will receive payment for taking actions which generate environmental benefits, such as improving grasslands or soils. With nearly 1,000 farmers signed up to the pilot, the new scheme will now be rolled out to farmers who farm more than 5 hectares of land and are eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme next year.

Setting out his priorities for the scheme, Mr Eustice said: “While it is not for me to tell an individual farmer what to do, I accept that we need to be clear about the policy outcomes we seek. These are to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030; to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions; to plant up to 10,000 hectares of trees per year in England, to improve water quality; to create more space for nature in the farmed landscape; and to ensure that we have a vibrant and profitable food and farming industry which supports the Government’s levelling-up agenda and helps safeguard our food security.”

Reacting to Mr Eustice’s speech Mark Tufnell, President of the Country Land and Business Association said:  “Today is a major milestone in the development of England’s new agriculture policy.  The Environmental Land Management schemes have the potential to be the most progressive and environmentally responsible schemes of their kind anywhere in the world.  The detail announced today of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, a key pillar of ELM, fires the starting gun on our transition towards a more sustainable and resilient farming sector, that will feed the nation as well as deliver further environmental benefit.”

The  announcements are a further step in delivering a new agricultural policy for the country, which the government says it has been working with farmers on to co-design and support the choices they make for their own holdings. The government says that since January it has:

  • Increased the money going to the Countryside Stewardship scheme and seen a 40% increase in applications compared with the previous years. It has announced it will be updating Countryside Stewardship payment rates from January 2022, which will be published in the new year
  • Launched the farming in protected landscapes scheme which provides funding to farmers and land managers in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), National Parks and the Broads to make improvements to the natural environment, cultural heritage and public access on their land;
  • Consulted on a voluntary exit scheme which builds on evidence that some farmers would like to leave the industry but have found it difficult to do so for financial reasons. The Government proposes to offer them a lump sum payment to help them do this in a planned and managed way;
  • Launched the Farming Investment Fund to boost farm profitability – farmers will benefit from a £27 million pot to invest in productivity-boosting equipment
  • Launched the Future Farming Resilience Fund which is designed to provide business support to farmers and land managers during the early years of the agricultural transition.

However,  the announcements come at the same time that Save British Farming (SBF) is planning a tractor rally protest against the government’s action on farming policies, with the group saying: “This government is doing all it can to make farming in Britain unviable. This will destroy our food security, our countryside, our public health and increase climate damage.”

Their frustration stems from a perception that the government have broken promises laid out in their 2019 manifesto regarding farming, and there are already concerns over how the new scheme will be managed.

The latest announcements have been largely welcomed as a step in the right direction to supporting farmers, but responses to Mr Eustice’s announcement have already raised some concerns.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker commented on the plans: “Even with the detail revealed today, there are still some questions and clarity sought such as capital payment details still not being clear for some grasslands, beyond soil standards, which have been included in the SFI Pilot, also for fencing, hedge-planting, stonewalling, organic farms and even agroforestry and woodland. Also, the statement made no actual mention of progress on the proposed retirement scheme.

“NSA is equally concerned about the attractiveness and adequacy of the moorland and rough grazing standards, and concerned about the approach to commons land and the ongoing link with Countryside Stewardship gives concern that we will see ongoing pressure to reduce stock numbers.”

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