Katie Hilton, Associate at Cheffins comments:

"As the Agriculture Bill enters its final stage we expect a series of major announcements from DEFRA towards the end of the year with more detail and direction for farmers on the phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and the introduction of Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs). Details have emerged from government sources that suggest the budget due to be set aside for the new ELMs ‘could be raided’ with funds weighted more heavily towards basic farm measures than previously thought. DEFRA have now rebranded Tier 1 of ELMs the ‘Sustainable Farming Incentive’, marking it out from the rest of ELMs as something that will work in parallel but not necessarily in conjunction with it. 

It is absolutely right that as we move away from the EU model of farm subsidies we focus more towards environmental sustainability and achieving the ambitious standards set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan. However, there are many competing factors and one that comes into immediate, sharp focus is the fact that many farm businesses will simply not survive without the direct payments they currently receive under BPS. Under government plans there is currently a gaping hole looming in farm support from when BPS payments begin reducing, in 2021, until ELMs becomes available in 2024. 

There is a growing realisation that this gap will need to be plugged and government sources suggest funding that was intended for ELMs will now be made available to farmers during the transition period under the Sustainable Farming Incentive. This comes particularly as the dual pressures of Brexit and now Covid-19 begin to bite. 

The new ELMs has a huge remit to cover across such a wide-ranging sector and the fear is that it will not be widely available to ordinary farmers. Farming bodies have quite rightly argued that ELMs cannot simply be a replacement of Countryside Stewardship but that it needs to take a much wider approach, reaching throughout the food supply chain in order to effectively drive sustainable farming. 

Looking across the whole spectrum of competing issues, DEFRA is clearly grappling with a very tall order. It must not abandon the pledges made under the 25 Year Environment Plan and Gove’s ‘public money for public goods’ mantra. But equally it must ensure that basic support containing achievable targets is available across every farming type in the UK to avoid wholesale losses of family farming businesses across the UK."

For further information or advice, contact Katie Hilton on katie.hilton@cheffins.co.uk