The new subsidies for green agriculture fail to attract large numbers of farmers, who instead focus on food production.
Only 1,000 farmers are enrolled in the most basic part of the new £ 2.4 billion Land Environmental Management Program (ELMS), which will replace the old EU-style subsidies.
The number of farmers who joined the program, which opened in June, is only 1.6% of the government’s target of participants by 2028.
The government is now considering revising the program to make it easier and more profitable for farmers to enroll, urging warnings from green groups that its environmental benefits could be mitigated.
Instead of paying farmers simply for the amount of land on which they produce food, like the EU under subsidies, Elms is a three-part scheme that pays for environmental goods such as soil health, air quality and reduced pollution. water pollution.
The “not worth the paperwork” offer
Farmer groups say Sustainable Agriculture Incentive (SIF) payments, which are intended to be the most accessible part of the program, are too low to encourage farmers to join, particularly as global food shortages drive up prices.
Growers can earn £ 22 per hectare from the basic program to improve their soil, compared to profits of up to £ 4,000 per hectare from growing sugar beet.
Growing sugar beet and other roots, such as potatoes, is likely to be incompatible with meeting environmental requirements for obtaining SFI payments, leaving farmers with an obvious trade-off.
“Particularly for farmers, the incentive offered is not substantially worth the paperwork,” said Martin Lines, president of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.
The political turmoil has also made it harder for the department to focus on involving farmers in understanding and adhering to programs.
The government pledged to revise the Elms scheme when Liz Truss came to power.
The review should go ahead under the new prime minister and should make the SFI more attractive to farmers. This could include paying farmers next year for further actions, such as hedge protection, which were planned at a later date.
“We have to pass the time”
“There are some warning signs about the lack of engagement in SFI,” said David Exwood, vice president of the National Farmers Union. “We have to pass the time.”
The NFU and other traditional farming groups want the government to commit to transferring money from the more ambitious parts of the program, especially the elements that focus on landscape-scale work, including rewilding.
“Most of that land shouldn’t be producing a lot of food,” said Mark Tufnell, of the Country Land and Business Association. “We believe that from 2024 onwards, there should only be up to 10% of the budget focused on landscape restoration.”
Other grants in the program, known as local nature recovery, could also be simplified to encourage more farmers to accept it.
But green groups fear that the simplification of Elms could undermine its environmental goals and reduce its renaturalization and tree planting programs could undermine agriculture’s ability to help the government achieve its nature and reach net zero goals.
“I don’t think simplifying things will lead us to these goals,” said Lines. “SFI was still quite weak in its lower ambitions, which were little more than encouraging farmers to meet a little more than the legal requirements.”
“Many farmers can participate. But you won’t get true nature recovery or water quality improvements, because the standard is that simple. “