Path to sustainable farming

Plans to deliver a better, fairer farming system in England have been set out by government last month. It said they will transform the way we support farmers, in the most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years.

The new 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 bureaucratic 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 government remains committed to its manifesto commitment to guarantee the current annual budget for every year of this Parliament.

The ‘Path to Sustainable Farming’, published today, sets out more detail on the changes we are going to make, and what they will mean for farmers.

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 and 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.

The government also said it would Simplify and improve existing schemes and their application processes further from January 2021 to reduce the burden on farmers, and we will take a modern approach to regulation, cutting unnecessary red tape for farmers and working together with industry to design a more targeted regulatory system.

Speaking to farmers and environmental groups at an Oxford Farming Conference, Environment Secretary George Eustice (featured) 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.

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.

The funding gained from phasing out Direct Payments will be used to introduce new schemes to help farmers become more productive and meet the growing demand for their produce all around the world.

The new Farming Investment Fund will open for applications next year. The fund will provide targeted support to businesses so that they can invest in equipment, technology, and infrastructure that will improve their productivity and deliver environmental and other public benefits.

The two levels for this fund will be the Farming Equipment Technology Fund, which will offer small grants to contribute towards the purchase of a list of specified items and the Farming Transformation Fund, which will provide larger grants towards the cost of more substantial investments in equipment, technology or infrastructure, with the potential to transform business performance.

Eligible investments under these funds may include on-farm water storage infrastructure, robotic or automated technology, items to improve animal health and welfare and equipment for processing agricultural products, which may help farmers to streamline or diversify their businesses.

From 2022, farmers will also benefit from an increased investment in agricultural Research & Development that will enable more farmers and agri-food businesses to drive innovation. This will see farmer-led R&D projects to trial and demonstrate viability of new and existing technologies to address immediate on-farm productivity challenges as well as research into how agriculture can meet its longer term goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net zero. Example projects could be trialling new feed additives or demonstrating the integration of autonomous farm machinery.

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