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Frustration at government delays on nature-friendly farming

Frustration at government delays on nature-friendly farming

The Soil Association remains frustrated at the government’s continued failure to provide clarity on future support for English farmers to protect the environment.

An announcement was expected today (Thursday 1 December) from Defra on the future of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), which is the government’s post-Brexit farming policy intended to replace the previous Basic Payment Scheme where farm payments were based on land ownership.

Since Brexit, the government has outlined plans to reward farmers for delivering “public goods” by protecting the environment, but the many changes in government leadership has led to uncertainty over the future of ELMS. The Soil Association is urging government to push forward with more ambition for the schemes and to urgently provide clarity for farmers.

Alongside farmers and environmental and farming groups, we were expecting a significant update when Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey addressed the CLA conference in London today.

Making space for nature must go alongside sustainable food production

It was welcome to hear the Environment Secretary's comments that food production and protecting nature can be "symbiotic", with her saying: “The choice is not producing food or doing environmental schemes, it’s about making space for nature and that must go alongside sustainable food production. They are not mutually exclusive."

But the speech left English farmers – who are facing huge pressures – still desperately lacking the long overdue details they need to both manage their businesses and activate a shift to nature-friendly farming.

While recognising the government’s desire to ensure the scheme delivers for nature and climate, we were disappointed to hear reports that the delayed review may come as late as February.

Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said:

“We remain frustrated at the continued government failure to give farmers confidence that previous promises to reward sustainable food production will be upheld.

“Delays and rumours of watering down plans to reward farmers for protecting the environment must end now. This policy is crucial at a time when our food system is in crisis – fertiliser, feed and energy costs for farmers are skyrocketing, wildlife populations are in freefall, shoppers are being priced out of sustainable food, and climate change is escalating at an unprecedented rate.

“It is disappointing that Defra has been unable to restore confidence in the government’s commitment to supporting nature-friendly farmers right on the eve of the UN Biodiversity Summit COP15. With farmland making up the vast majority of English land, this risks undermining pledges to restore nature before they have even been made.

“We urgently need transformative change with investment in a revolutionary shift to the most evidence-based solution – resilient, nature-friendly, agroecological farming. We also must see a renewed commitment to long-term support for our nature-friendly farming pioneers in the organic sector.”

The Soil Association is calling for:

• More ambition and funding within the Sustainable Farming Incentive so that it supports farmers to help them transition to resilient farm businesses focused on more diverse, nutritious food production in harmony with nature whilst tackling climate change and restoring soil health and biodiversity.

• Clarity for organic farmers – currently the Countryside Stewardship scheme provides funding for converting to and maintaining organic systems, which is due to end in 2024. With 50% more wildlife and 44% more soil carbon on organic farms, we are calling for the government to renew its commitment to our nature-friendly farming pioneers.

• Despite the uncertainty, the Soil Association also urges farmers to get involved with ELMS as it still offers the best opportunity to obtain payments for nature-friendly practices. Free help and advice on navigating farm subsidy polices, and on how to build resilience through agroecological practices, is available to any type of farmer with the Soil Association’s farming team.