Government unveils path to sustainable farming

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Plans that will deliver a ‘better, fairer farming system’ in England, according to the Government, have been set out.

The plans will, apparently, transform the way we support farmers, in the most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years.

The roadmap outlines changes that will come into force over a period of seven years to help farmers adapt and plan for the future. Outside the EU and no longer bound by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, the plans set out how Government plans to introduce a new system that is tailored in the interests of English farmers, centred on support that rewards farmers and land managers for sustainable farming practices.

The changes will be designed to ensure that by 2028, farmers in England can sustainably produce healthy food profitably without subsidy, whilst taking steps to improve the environment, improve animal health and welfare and reduce carbon emissions.

Next year marks the start of the transition where we will begin to move away from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) towards new policies that will be co-designed and tested together with farmers, land managers and experts, to ensure that the new systems work for them.

The ‘Path to Sustainable Farming’, sets out more detail on the changes the Government are going to make, and what they will mean for farmers.
The key changes include:

  • introducing the Environmental Land Management scheme to incentivise sustainable farming practices, create habitats for nature recovery and establish new woodland to help tackle climate change;
  • investing in improving animal health and welfare as part of our sustainable farming approach. This will initially focus on controlling or eradicating endemic diseases amongst cattle, pigs and sheep;
  • direct payments will be reduced fairly, starting from the 2021 Basic  payment Scheme year, with the money released being used to fund new grants and schemes to boost farmers’ productivity and reward environmental improvements;
  • launching a Farming Investment Fund, which will support innovation and productivity. This will open for applications next year and will be used to offer grants for equipment, technology and infrastructure for the future;
  • simplifying and improving existing schemes and their application  rocesses further from January 2021 to reduce the burden on farmers, and a modern approach to regulation will be taken, cutting unnecessary red tape for farmers and working together with industry to design a more targeted regulatory system. In a speech to farmers and environmental groups at an Oxford Farming Conference OFCBitesize event, Environment Secretary George Eustice has said:

“We want farmers to access public money to help their businesses become more productive and sustainable, whilst taking steps to improve the environment and animal welfare, and deliver climate change outcomes on the land they manage.

‘Rather than the prescriptive, top down rules of the EU era, we want to support the choices that farmers and land managers take. If we work together to get this right, then a decade from now the rest of the world will want to follow our lead.”

While the roadmap provides a clear view on the changes coming through the transition, this will be followed by a period of engagement with farmers, land managers and other stakeholders to finalise the design and operation of the future system to ensure they work for everyone.

For example, the final design for the future
Environmental Land Management scheme will continue to evolve and adapt to the lessons learnt through co-design exercises, such as the ongoing tests and trials and upcoming National Pilot for the scheme.

Tony Juniper Chair of Natural England said: “This plan marks an historic shift in the way we manage our land, setting us on course toward the production of sustainable food at the same time as rising to the urgent task of halting and reversing the decline of nature.

‘More than two thirds of England is farmed and this plan paves the way for those who manage the land to produce healthy food alongside other vital benefits, such as carbon storage, clean water, reduced flood risk, thriving wildlife and beautiful landscapes for everyone to enjoy.

‘At Natural England we look forward to working with this plan to breathe life into England’s Nature Recovery Network, including through the very exciting ambition to create large scale Landscape Recovery Areas.”

The new roadmap comes a few weeks after the government’s landmark Agriculture Bill passed into law, providing the powers needed to incentivise farmers to make the right environmental choices and help them to make the most of the opportunities available outside
of the EU.

Further detail on the National Pilot for Environmental Land Management and the government response to the national conversation around the new scheme that took place earlier this year are due to be published early next year. These measures apply to England only. Now we have left the EU each UK administration has the flexibility to develop agricultural policy suited to their own unique circumstances.

Local Life