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Defra announces more details on its changing approach to ELM

Defra have announced further details on their changed approach to Environmental Land Management (ELM). This is the set of schemes which aim to support farmers and land managers in tacking actions that should deliver environmental public goods.

A tree in a field. Credit: Jürgen | Pixabay

A tree in a field. Credit: Jürgen | Pixabay

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will now offer 6 new standards in 2023, rather than just 3 that was originally intended. This includes: hedgerows, low input grassland, improved grassland, arable and horticultural land, integrated pest management, and nutrient management.

Another change to the SFI is that Defra have dropped the three levels of ambition that were planned to act as a 'ladder' in the standards, for stand alone actions. It is also worth noting that these actions will be voluntary and without directed choice.

So far, less than 2,000 farms have applied for the 3 standards on soil health (arable and horticulture soil and improved grassland soil) and moorlands that were available in 2022.

Defra will hope that a broader scheme with more actions, and an approach that should enable stacking of actions alongside Countryside Stewardship (CS), will see a significant increase in those numbers.

There are two key questions that will be on the minds of some farmers and stakeholder: How will farmers be able to stack multiple SFI standards and a CS agreement in a way that is not complicated? And how will Defra ratchet up ambition over the coming years? 

Defra has also decided to drop the Local Nature Recovery (LNR) scheme in favour of evolving Countryside Stewardship (CS). In the short-term, this may encourage more farmers to apply into the scheme, but it does raise questions around Defra’s ambition. The LNR scheme, for instance, was aiming to encourage more collaboration amongst farmers at a local landscape scale and it vital this is carried over to what is now going to be Countryside Stewardship Plus (CSP).

Vicki Hird, head of farming at Sustain, said: “We are pleased that Defra are rolling out a fuller version of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), with more areas and farm types covered, something we have been calling for over the past year.

The move to a Countryside Stewardship Plus (CSP) approach does raise some questions around the levels of ambition Defra has, but crucially, CSP must include the aim of Local Nature Recovery to create more local landscape collaboration amongst farmers.

The 6 new SFI standards could deliver a significant impact on delivering public goods, if there are clear actions, an approach that properly incentivises multiple action uptake, adequate monitoring and review processes, and if the payment rates are economically workable for farms of all types and sizes.

Ideally, we would have wanted to see the three levels in each standard remain as a ladder to help farmers move towards delivering more impact, and ideally, stronger support for whole farm approaches. In the absense of this, we need to see a clear strategy and plan from Defra to increase SFI ambition over the agricultural transition period.

This announcement, on the other hand, will not necessarily address the issues that smaller farm businesses are facing when trying to participate in agri-environment schemes. Defra must address these problems before the application windows open for 2023.

Farmers need to be given wider and more joined up support to help shift towards more sustainable and agroecological systems. These additions are a step towards this, but there are still gaps which need to be filled, and we will continue to work with Defra on this.”

Published Thursday 26 January 2023

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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