Proclaimed as the ‘biggest upgrade to UK farming schemes since leaving the EU’, the government has set out a series of updates to funding, incentives, and support packages for British farmers.
The updates include a 10% increase in the average value of agreements in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme which will also have a simplified application process.
In addition, there are around 50 new actions that farmers can be paid for including agroforestry and the use of agricultural technology. There will be enhanced payments for the creation and maintenance of wildlife habitats and premium payments for actions (or a combination of actions) that have the greatest environmental impact.
Announcing these changes, Environmental Secretary Steve Barclay said, “We have listened to farmers’ feedback and set out the biggest upgrades to our farming schemes since leaving the EU, with more money, more choice, and more trust to support domestic food production whilst also protecting the environment” but most farms will still return less than what was received from subsidies under the old scheme.
Some in the industry have also raised questions, with the National Farmers Union (NFU) stakeholders asking whether environmental targets had taken priority over sustainable food production and have called for a mid-term review following the implementation of the scheme.
Meanwhile, the NFU and Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) have both expressed concern over how the schemes would work for tenant farmers, and the president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Victoria Vyvyan is quoted by Farmers Guardian as saying that although there is “a lot to like”, she is “very concerned that farmers will have to wait until this summer, at the earliest, before the application window opens”, and has questioned the readiness of the IT systems that will deal with the new options.
Also passing judgement on the announcement, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Steve Reed said the Government has “failed to pass on hundreds of millions of pounds intended to help farmers”.
Our director and head of agriculture, Mark Chatterton’s views on this are similarly mixed. Mark said:
“The increase in rates is welcome news but the average returns will be less than what was received from subsidies under Basic Payments (BP).
“BP ran from 2005 to 2022 at £240 per hectare on average across the whole farm. CS and SFI will only be claimed on those areas entered into environment schemes and most will be putting 10 to 20 percent of their land in. Some are considering entering larger areas but this will require them to reduce their cropped area and they can only do this if they can reduce fixed costs accordingly, particularly those using contractors who don’t own much machinery and have other business interests.
“With this fundamental change in how farm subsidies are awarded, there are new skill sets to learn and although the situation is not ideal for older generations, this could help them retire and open opportunities for younger farmers.”
The full list of improvements in the ‘updated offer for 2024’, which, the government says, was ‘designed using feedback from farmers’ can be found on the government website.
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