DURING his speech to the annual NFU conference, food and farming minister Mark Spencer urged farmers to take advantage of payments made for taking part in sustainable practices.
The minister began by emphasising his own roots as a farmer in Nottinghamshire, before exploring the many challenges that farmers are currently facing.
But his speech was very much focused on how farmers must take up the mantle of sustainability in a bid to ensure the land can be passed on to future generations in a healthy, productive and profitable state.
“We all want to keep our focus on the opportunity we now have to secure a sustainable, productive, and profitable future for farming. So that we strengthen the resilience of our environment, our businesses and our communities, while improving the prosperity of the food sector for every generation to come.”
The minister made it clear that the farming sector was at the heart of the government’s environmental targets.
“I urge you to get involved with the initial phase of the Sustainable Farming Incentive. We kicked off the scheme in the summer, starting with soil health. We’ve started making payments in our new Sustainable Farming Incentive on a quarterly basis instead of annually, making more options available very soon. I hope that you are taking advantage of the support that is available for your business.
“Not just to halt the loss of species in our country by 2030 and then reverse the decline, but to reach net zero by 2050, to make sure we have cleaner air, and clearer and more plentiful water, and less pollution, and that we are better prepared for episodes of flooding and drought in a changing climate, as well as helping us to meet our commitment to report to parliament on the state of our nation’s food security at least once every three years, so we maintain and enhance the strong farm to fork system that makes our food and drink so special – and a real engine for our economy as well.”
The minister said that the level of funding available to farmers would remain unchanged from the government’s manifesto commitment – two-point-four billion pounds, “with all the funding from planned, steady, fair reductions in BPS made available to farmers though a combination of one-off grants and ongoing schemes, as we pay you to take action through our environmental land management schemes.”
The minister confirmed that a new additional payment of £20 a hectare for the first 50 hectares was available. “That’s up to £1,000, in addition to the payments you’ll receive for the work you to do improve your farm and the environment, available for everyone joining from the start of our 2023 offer, and applied to everyone who is already taking part – so early adopters get the same benefits, with the smallest farms feeling the biggest difference.”
He also pledged that more standards would be added to the Initiative, with all in place by the end of 2024.
“Already, we’ve added six further ways farmers can be paid to take action in 2023, that’s double what we said we’d do this year. Each action is good for the farm, good for food production, and good for nature, helping you reduce costs, making your operation more efficient and resilient, as well as helping you do your bit as part of our national effort to reduce emissions, and helping you improve water quality and help wildlife on your farm as well, so more farms of all shapes and sizes can make doing their bit for the environment part of their business plan.”
“So, if you’ve been considering joining the scheme in 2023, now is the time to do it. It is easy to apply, it is fair and flexible, and it makes business sense – and as we broaden the offer, there is something in it for all kinds of farms.”
The England Woodland Creation Offer will become part of the Countryside Stewardship scheme from 2025. Payment rates for the scheme had seen an average increase of 10% for revenue payment rates for ongoing activity like managing habitats, and an average increase of 48% for capital payment rates – for one-off projects such as hedgerow creation, to help meet with the rising costs.
“I encourage you to take a look at the details. We have published details of the action we will be backing through Countryside Stewardship as well, as we expand the scope of both schemes in 2023 and 2024, so you can decide what is right for you, and plan ahead.
“With over 30,000 agreements in our improved Countryside Stewardship scheme – that’s a 94% increase. I think that is the right thing to do to make sure we hit the accelerator on the benefits we want to see for your businesses and for the environment as well, without wasting time reinventing the wheel, and there are more than 250 options across the two schemes – so there will be something for everyone and every farm.”
In addition, the minister highlighted the first 22 Landscape Recovery pilot projects that are up and running. “All these projects have working farms involved, and overall the scheme has had a neutral impact on food production, something we will continue to monitor. These projects are helping to restore nearly 700 kilometres of rivers – and protecting 263 species.”