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The Sustainable Farming Incentive – a transitional farm payment scheme

In a recent article, Sustain discussed the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) which Defra sees as a transitional scheme into Environmental Land Management (ELM). However, there are concerns it could divert time and resources away from implementing the more ambitious ELMs while also causing delays.

Credit: James Woodward

Credit: James Woodward

As mentioned in a Sustain article earlier this month, the recent direction of farm payments policy has taken a twist with the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). This is being seen as a transitional scheme that would help farmers move from the schemes under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and into the new ones under Environmental Land Management (ELM). Some see the SFI as a way of supporting farmers in the transition to deliver environmental outcomes (like basic soil, pesticide and animal welfare management), while others see it as a potentially backwards step on delivering more ambitious environmental, climate and biodiversity actions.

The BBC’s recent article titled ‘Green plans diluted as government protects farmers’ discusses the SFI and what it might mean for farmers and the environment. The article suggests that many farmers will be relieved that a simpler and less ambitious scheme will help them in the move from CAP subsidies to ELM payments. British farmers, especially smaller and livestock based farms, have become reliant on basic payment subsidies to stay in business. On the other hand, the article explains that environmentalists see this as a potential redirection away from the more ambitious farming policies of supporting the delivery of public goods from taxpayer money.

In response to the SFI, the Wildlife and Countryside Link wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Defra to show concern that the environmental ambitions of the new farming policy were being lost and being delayed. The concerns of Link are that a new scheme risks causing distraction and divergence away from the core aims of ELM, while also risking the delay of fully implementing the policy. Some of the measures proposed in the SFI are good practice farming, and therefore, there are concerns that the scheme will not deliver value for taxpayers' money and will lead to the old issues associated to previous agri-environment schemes. In their letter to Defra, Link urge that work of the Future Farming and Countryside Programme (which includes ELM) gets back on track.

Other organisations in the food and farming sector also share the same concerns around the delaying of ELM. A partnership of organisations, including the Sustainable Food Trust and National Farmers’ Union, have proposed their own Sustainable Food and Farming Scheme (SFFS) as reported in the Farmers Guardian. This is being proposed as a Tier 1 ELM scheme that would be voluntary. The measures in the proposal would support farmers in delivering environmental, cultural, climate, public access, and animal welfare outcomes. Farmers would be rewarded for devising plans, setting targets, measuring performance, and sharing experience, all with the aim of improving productivity too. The NFU have said that the underlying reason for the scheme is to improve resource use efficiency on farms and have better land management. The idea of the scheme is to try and deliver a whole farm strategic approach by encouraging farmers to layer options that complement each other, which in turn would give them a bonus (or multiplier payment).

Sustain welcomes the idea of a more whole farm approach. This is something which Sustain has been pushing with our partners for a number of years. However, a whole farm approach should be based on agro-ecological farming that supports farmers to grow plentiful healthy food in a way that protects and enhances our environment and culture. In partnership with members and other organisations, Sustain has been calling on Defra to use ELM for supporting farmers into whole farm agroecology approaches.

Published 23 Sep 2020

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

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