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Defra reveals further details of its Environmental Land Management Scheme

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Defra have today provided further details of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), including an expansion of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), outlining how government will pay farmers for good and services that positively impact the environment.

Six new standards under the SFI, have been introduced, enabling farmers to receive payment for action on:

  • hedgerows
  • grassland
  • arable land
  • horticultural land
  • pest management
  • nutrient management

These are in addition to the three existing standards to improve soil health and moorlands, introduced in 2022, to which nearly 2,000 farmers have signed up to thus far.

While revealing these plans Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

“Farmers are at the heart of our economy – producing the food on our tables as well as being the custodians of the land it comes from.

“These two roles go hand-in-hand and we are speeding up the roll out of our farming schemes so that everyone can be financially supported as they protect the planet while producing food more sustainably.”

What are the payments and how do you apply?

Details of the payment levels themselves were also revealed, including a fee of £989 per year to complete an integrated pest management (IPM) assessment and produce a plan accordingly, £589 per year for a nutrient management assessment and plan, plus £45 per hectare for no use of insecticide. 

Eligible farmers and land managers in England will be able to apply online for the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) options from this summer.

Details of payments available through the Countryside Stewardship Plus, previously known as the Local Nature Recovery scheme, rewarding farmers for working with neighbouring farms and landowners to support climate and nature aims, have also been revealed, including 30 additional options, adding to the 250 farmers are already able to take. These include the management of floodplain meadows to reduce flood risk and improve biodiversity, restoring and maintaining peatland for carbon capture and storage, and enhancing and managing woodland to mitigate against drought and enhance its resilience to climate change.

Industry reaction

The announcement and the detail it includes has been welcomed by farming and environmental groups, however many are calling for more joined up, long-term thinking – a selection of the these reactions are below:

NFU Vice President David Exwood said:

“Information on the six new standards for SFI 2023, payments rates, as well as the evolving Countryside Stewardship scheme, is incredibly useful and provides some of the clarity we have been asking for.

“For farmers and growers making crucial long-term decisions that are essential to running viable and profitable food producing businesses, it’s vital they have the full scheme details as soon as possible and know how the different schemes will work together.”

Martin Lines and Philip Carson of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) said

“This is a positive development in what’s been a long road to getting clarity on the future of farm payments for managing hedgerows, wildflower meadows and other essential ecosystems. However, individual actions on their own won’t achieve our climate and nature targets. There remains the need for join-up between actions to avoid a piecemeal approach. Whilst it’s not perfect, it’s a start.”

Head of Farming Policy at the Soil Association Gareth Morgan said

“The government is failing to make clear how they will give farmers confidence to invest in the radical changes needed for a resilient and sustainable, agroecological farming sector. We are facing a climate emergency and ecological collapse – there are welcome elements in today’s announcement but we must stop tinkering around the edges. Government must provide the long-term vision to help farmers do more than make small changes. They need a package of guidance and incentives that spark a shift to nature-friendly farming across their entire farms.

“The new incentives for agroecological and organic farming practices – like avoiding insecticides and using legumes for soil fertility instead of chemicals – are welcome. But information on the promised organic standard or any clarity for our sustainable farming pioneers is still missing. Support for game-changing action like planting more trees on farms is also desperately needed.”

Chief Executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) commented:

“We have been calling on DEFRA to set out a more robust offering to farmers and at long last we are now getting somewhere. It is great news that a broad range of farmers and farming types will now be able to participate in schemes, which will deliver environmental outcomes and other public goods. In most cases, there should be a range of options with which farmers can engage.”

The full policy paper, including payment rates, application details, details of who qualifies and actions to take are available on the Government website.

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