Responding to announcements at the Oxford Farming Conference by Defra Secretary of State George Eustice on the future of farming support schemes, NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw said: “British farmers are proud to produce climate-friendly food to some of the highest standards in the world, alongside maintaining and protecting the great British countryside, its air, water, soils and its wildlife.
“We welcome today’s further clarity on the roll-out of the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery as part of the agricultural transition, including scheme eligibility and option-based approach available to farmers to support activity such as the creation of wetland habitats and managing trees and woodlands. The increases in payment rates for new Countryside Stewardship agreements are also welcome.
“The NFU has always maintained that the ‘public money for public goods’ approach must focus on sustainable food production and environmental delivery going hand-in-hand. While it is encouraging that sustainable food production is recognised, there is still a lack of detail on how it fits in with the schemes’ ambitions to improve farm biodiversity, restore peatlands and manage woodlands. This lack of detail is preventing farmers from making crucial long-term decisions that are essential to them running viable and profitable businesses.
“There are still a number of questions that need answers, not least the costs farmers are likely to incur from participating in these new schemes and how the schemes are accessible right across the country and for every farmer. Currently there appears to be a lack of options for tenant farmers to get involved and this must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“It is also clear that neither Local Nature Recovery or Landscape Recovery will be widely available to farmers over the next three years, making it difficult to replace the falling income from BPS. To remedy this, farmers must have more detail about the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), specifically when will SFI ‘early rollout’ be launched this year and how quickly can the SFI offer be increased to enable greater uptake, so they can make the important decisions needed now which will affect their business for years to come.
“Only by ensuring these schemes incentivise sustainable food production, allow every farm business to be involved, and pay farmers fairly for the costs they incur, will they attract the participation the government envisages to deliver our collective environmental and net zero ambitions.
“At a time when public support for British food and farming is at a high, our biggest concern is that these schemes result in reduced food production in the UK, leading to the need to import more food from countries with production standards that would be illegal for our farmers here. This simply off-shores our production and any environmental impacts that go with it and would be morally reprehensible.”
Picture caption: NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw