Government failing to give farmers confidence in nature-friendly farming

Environmental Land Management Scheme announcements

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs set out the latest details for the Environmental Land Management Scheme yesterday.

The long-awaited details for the new farm subsidy scheme in England have now been published. The environmental land management schemes (ELMs) will pay farmers and landowners money for actions which help towards reaching our environmental targets. 

Our Head of Farming Policy, 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.

“Much that is set to be rewarded in this new policy was already part of existing Countryside Stewardship policies, and it remains unclear as to which scheme farmers should choose or how the policies will work together. 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.

“We welcome an increased sense of urgency from government to help farmers to produce food resiliently and in harmony with nature. Farmers should be reassured by the direction signalled, but much more is needed to help them make the transformative changes to help us meet our climate and nature goals.”

There is unprecedented consensus on the case for the transition to agroecology.

The Soil Association also calls for:

    • Support for whole-farm approaches to protecting and restoring nature, as we know that pesticides and fertilisers harm bees, and other vital insect species, as well as causing harm to the wildlife that eat them, even in surrounding conservation areas.
    • A bolder vision for a farmer-led tree revolution to integrate our woodland expansion goals with productive agroecological farming so that our food footprint is not pushed overseas.
    • Government investment in practical advice and farmer-to-farmer learning. This is essential alongside the incentives to help farmers adopt nature-friendly practices that end chemical reliance. A decade of farmer-led research with the Innovative Farmers network has proved that farmers learn best from each other and real farm-based trials spark change. With this approach, a farmer-led tree revolution – incorporating trees with crops and livestock within fields rather than just in separate woodland – will help us meet our tree cover, climate and nature goals.
    • Intervention by government to overhaul our broken food chain so that it stops encouraging people to eat unhealthy, unsustainable, ultra-processed diets – instead creating a market for farmers to produce healthy, fresh, nature-friendly food via shorter supply chains and better menus in schools, hospitals and other public settings.
    • The continuation of Countryside Stewardship incentives to help farmers convert to and manage organic systems, which do not use chemical pesticides or fertilisers.
    • Governance of carbon offsetting with government playing a key role to set rules that ensure carbon markets deliver for nature-friendly farming and farm-scale forestry and don’t conflict with farm support policies.