Defra has announced farmers will receive increased payments for protecting and enhancing nature and delivering sustainable food production under the Government’s Environmental Land Management schemes. Government to pay more to farmers who protect and enhance the environment - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
At the Oxford Farming Conference on 5th January, Farming Minister, Mark Spencer, announced more money for farmers and landowners through both the Countryside Stewardship and the Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes. He also confirmed an expanded range of actions under the schemes, which farmers could be paid for, would be published soon.
Mr Spencer stated that ‘making the shift towards a more sustainable, resilient food system is critical to feeding a growing population, to meeting our world-leading commitments to halt the decline of nature by 2030 and reach net zero.’
Additionally, research and development for the future was emphasised with the Farming Innovation Programme having over 150 projects underway it was stated the UK government will be investing £270 million in research and innovation that will boost productivity and enhance the environment. The Gene Technology Bill was also referenced as allowing the UK to remove unnecessary barriers to research .
Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)
Farmers will receive up to £1,000 as an ‘SFI Management Payment’ of £20 per hectare, up to 50 hectares of land entered into the scheme.
For a 50-hectare farm this represents a potential increase of 50%. Payments will be backdated to the start of an SFI agreement. An expanded range of SFI standards, which cover the actions farmers can undertake to enhance nature, will be published soon.
In line with published payment principles, Defra are keeping payments in all schemes under review during the transition period to ensure they work for farmers, provide value for money and deliver the outcomes they need.
Both new and existing CS revenue agreement holders will benefit from payment increases of 10% on average, backdated to 1 January 2023. This funds ongoing activity such as hedgerow management. For example:
- Rates for in-field grass strips – which allow pollinators such as bees to make their way across large fields from one strip to another, rather than sitting on the margins, and thereby increasing crop yields – are increasing from £624 per hectare to £658 per hectare.
- Sowing strips of land with a seed mix which will provide food for birds in winter, encouraging wildlife to remain on the farm year round and reducing the need for expensive artificial fertiliser, will increase from £640 per hectare to £732 per hectare.
- The payment rate for management of low input grassland in upland areas will also rise from £71 to £98 per hectare. This option provides grasses and wildflowers that provide nectar food and shelter for invertebrates and help attract ground-nesting and feeding birds to less productive farmland.
- The rate for creating successional areas and scrub has risen from £128 to £149 per hectare. These areas help provide habitats for birds and other important species and improves the quality of woodland edges, as well as restricting soil erosion and holding back water to reduce downstream flooding.
The majority of CS capital payments - one-off grants for things like hedgerow creation – will also increase from 1 January, with rates up by an average of 48%. The application window for these grants opens today. For example:
- Hedgerow creation increases to £22.97 per metre, compared to £11.60 currently – a rise of 98% - supporting farmers to create new habitats for beneficial insects and birds, in turn reducing the need for pesticides on crops. This also reduces soil erosion, improves drainage, and increases carbon capture.
- Improving or upgrading existing outdoor, uncovered yard drainage is important in helping to reduce foul drainage volumes and runoff, reducing the risk of water and air pollution in water catchment areas. Payment rates to support this have risen from £27.14 per square metre to £33.64.
- Re-wetting and maintaining moorland peatland habitats are important to help us deliver our environmental outcomes. The payment for capital works for grip blocking drainage channels to support this have risen from £14.80 per block to £19.06.
Revenue rates will remain the same for those in Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreements.
Whilst this speech and developments would be welcome to food producers and farmers and Mark Spencer was correct in that that there need be no tension between environmental stewardship and food production, the speech did underline a continued focus from Defra on public goods under the Environment Act, in priority to some of the food security issues the NFU have outlined. Additionally, clarity for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELM) to allow farmers to properly plan and prepare at a volatile time is still required.
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