Farmers are being urged by the government to take advantage of the benefits of increased payments available under its Environmental Land Management schemes for protecting and enhancing nature and delivering sustainable food production.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, minister Mark Spencer MP announced more money for farmers and landowners through both the Countryside Stewardship and the Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes, which will provide further support to the industry at a time of rising costs for farmers as a result of global challenges.
He also confirmed that an expanded range of actions under the schemes, which farmers could be paid for, would be published soon.
The changes mean farmers could receive up to a further £1,000 per year for taking nature-friendly action through the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).
This new Management Payment will be made for the first 50 hectares of farm (£20/ha) in an SFI agreement,
to cover the administrative costs of participation and to attract smaller businesses – many of whom are tenant farmers – who are currently under-represented in the scheme.
SFI is already paying farmers to improve soil and moorlands, and an expanded set of standards for 2023 is expected to be published shortly.
In addition, farmers with a Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement, of which there are now 30,000 across England, will see an average increase of 10% to their revenue payment rates – covering ongoing activity such as habitat management.
Defra is also updating capital payment rates, which cover one-off projects such as hedgerow creation, with an average increase of 48%.
Meanwhile, capital and annual maintenance payments for the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) and Tree Health Pilot (THP) will also be updated this year, helping to incentivise farmers to incorporate more trees as a valuable natural resource on farms.
Taken together, these changes will mean more farmers taking individual positive actions such as creating hedgerows and flower-rich grass areas on the edge of fields and will support farmers and landowners in making space for nature alongside sustainable food production.
The government believes that uptake of the scheme will help it meet the UK’s legally binding environment targets and contribute to its aim of halting biodiversity loss by 2030, agreed at COP15 in December last year, while supporting the industry to farm more home-grown produce and take advantage of innovation.
Farming Minister, Mark Spencer said: “My challenge to our great industry is simple – this year, take another look at the Environmental Land Management schemes and think about what options and grants will help support your farm.
“As custodians of more than 70% of our countryside, the nation is relying on its farmers to protect our landscapes as well as produce the high-quality food we are known for, and we are increasing payment rates to ensure farmers are not out of pocket for doing the right thing by the environment.
“By increasing the investment in these schemes, I want farmers to see this stacks up for business – whatever the size of your holding.”
Under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which the UK has now left, farmers received payments based on how much land they held, meaning half the available cash went to the top 10%. Outside the EU, the UK is bringing in a new system which is designed in the best interests of our industry, in partnership with the sector.
As the UK works towards its targets of halting the decline of nature by 2030 and hitting net zero by 2050 the system, which is being phased in by 2027-8, puts money into farmers’ pockets and the wider rural economy based on actions taken to enhance nature and drive innovation in agriculture.
These increased payments also recognise the challenges of rising input costs and other pressures which are being felt across the sector.
The government wants the SFI Management Payment to drive uptake in the scheme among all farmers, including smaller farms who are currently under-represented in environmental schemes.
SFI was designed with tenant farmers firmly in mind and is more accessible to them thanks to shorter, three-year agreements and allowing tenants on shorter contracts to enter into the scheme without the need for landlord consent.