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Defra announce key policies for the agricultural transition period and beyond - is there a lack of detail and vision?

Defra Secretary of State George Eustice announced today a number of policies and schemes aimed to take farming through the agricultural transition period and beyond. However, farmers might feel they do not have enough detail to plan for the future and are Defra still lacking some vision?

Credit: James Woodward

Credit: James Woodward

George Eustice has today announced the future policies and direction of farm support during the agricultural transition period and beyond. These include moving the farming sector towards being more environmentally and economically sustainable - however, the devil is yet to be in the detail.

Defra - The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024.

There were four main announcements in today's Oxford Farming Conference speech:

  1. An Environmental Land Management scheme that incentivises sustainable farming practices (not systems), creation of nature recovery habitats and establishing new woodland to help tackle climate change.
  2. Animal health and welfare investment, which will initially focus on endemic diseases amongst cattle, pigs and sheep.
  3. The phasing out of Direct Payments from 2021, with that money used to fund grants and schemes aimed at productivity and environmental improvements.
  4. A new Farming Investment Fund that supports innovation and productivity, with an application window in 2021 - equipment, technology and infrastructure.
  5. Simplify existing schemes (e.g. Countryside Stewardship) to reduce the red-tape burden on farmers, alongside a new approach to regulation which is also less burdensome and that is co-designed with industry.

Farmers and civil society organisations will still feel as though a lot of detail is missing on how these policies will be designed, how they will be implemented, and what impact they will have on the environment and on farm businesses. With a painful Brexit looming and little clarity on how new entrants will be supported, the farming sector will be keen to see how they will be further supported.

James Woodward, Sustainable Farming Officer at Sustain says:

"George Eustice's announcements today on economic and environmental sustainability, as well as animal welfare, are a welcome step. We know, from research and lived experience, that sustainable farming works best at the whole-farm scale and not through minor tweaks here and there. In that sense, big questions still remain as to whether the Environmental Land Management scheme and Farm Investment Fund will support whole-farm agroecological systems, like organic and agroforestry. The array of farming and environmental policies needs to be designed to work together. We still lack the detail of what farms will be paid for doing which will frustrate farmers trying to plan for the future.

The transition period could be very bumpy for many farmers and Defra needs to ensure that all schemes and funding are accessible for all sized farms, which must include free or affordable advice to help provide on-going support. We are also waiting on the timetable for the introduction of new statutory Codes of Practice, which should make supply chains fairer for farmers by stopping the abusive practices that are all too commonplace.

Whilst we welcome the announcement, it would be fair to say, that we are still some way off having the level of detail and vision yet.

Published 30 Nov 2020

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

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