Agricultural Transition Plan: Pest, pesticides and plant health

A picture of a tractor spraying crops in a field.

The government has unveiled its roadmap which outlines the changes that will come into force over a period of seven years in order to help farmers adapt and plan for the future.

The "Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021-2024" sets out in more detail the changes the government are going to make, and what they will mean in practice for farmers.

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Pests, pesticides and plant health are mentioned in four main places of the ATP:

1. Under the consultations sections flagging further information and how people can get involved

The ATP simply flags that a consultation on the UK draft National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides will be published shortly. Responses to this will be considered in the round, but will set Defra’s approach to support the uptake of IPM and ensure safe and sustainable use of pesticides.

2. ELMs Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) options

The ATP describes how the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) will be made up of three component parts – SFI, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery. Examples of the types of SFI actions include Integrated Pest Management (IPM) (as well as cropland management, grassland management, livestock management, tree and woodland management, boundary and hedgerow management, soil management, nutrient management, efficient water use, wildlife and biodiversity, and the protection of heritage assets), where this goes further than regulatory requirements. The ATP sets out to support farmers to develop a whole farm plan to help make their land and their business sustainable. Roll out of the SFI will start in 2022, when it will initially focus on soil management, integrated pest management, nutrient management and livestock management. SFI agreements will support farmers to make sustained, sustainable changes that really make a difference over time.

3. Farming Transformation Fund options

The ATP proposes a Farming Transformation Fund to make grants available towards the cost of more substantial investments in equipment, technology or infrastructure, to transform business performance. This could include using water, nutrients or pesticides more effectively. There will be a two-stage application process – an initial Expressions of Interest stage (to assess eligibility and guide preparation of full applications), and then full applications, which will be scored against selection criteria before awarding grants. Grants will be made towards the cost of equipment, technology, and infrastructure that will improve efficiency and productivity while also benefitting the environment. Eligible investments could include infrastructure, precision agriculture equipment (e.g. low emission and variable-rate nutrient or pesticide application), and robotic or automated technology. Defra is working with farming organisations as it develops the scheme design to decide what equipment and technology will be eligible for grants.

4. Tree health grants and pilot

The government wants to reduce the impact of tree pests and disease to protect our trees, woods and forests. Defra have committed to expanding the scope of the existing Countryside Stewardship tree health schemes to ensure that England’s trees, woods and forests continue to protect and improve the economic, social and environmental benefits they deliver. Specifically, Defra will broaden the range of tree species, pests and disease it covers, and the land managers eligible for support. The new scheme will be available for full roll out in 2024, and in the meantime Defra are running a “Tree Health Pilot” that will inform the development of the full scheme. This is available to 100 land managers.

Eligibility is still under development. The scheme will open for applicants in 2021 and run through to 2024. Eligibility is looking to be expanded beyond the current offer which may include hedgerows, roadside trees and trees in parks and parklands.

Countryside Stewardship tree health grants will remain available throughout transition (present – 2024).

NFU comment:

The NFU welcomes the proposals to support the uptake of IPM under the SFI, and over the next year we are leading an ELM project to better understand how support for IPM can fit within the scheme. The NFU has been urging government since 2018 to look at ways in which it could support uptake of technologies to help reduce pesticide risk, so we also welcome the proposal to support improvements in the safe and sustainable use of pesticides through Farming Transformation Fund grants for precision application equipment and other technology or infrastructure.

Tree health is more important than ever with all the focus on tree planting at present and in the years ahead. The NFU welcomes the expansion of eligibility in terms of those able to apply and the tree species, pests and diseases covered. The NFU particularly welcomes the potential inclusion of hedgerow and roadside trees in the expanded offer. Funding in this area is crucial going forward and clarity over future funding for this area is welcome. In addition to the 100 pilot schemes government will be taking forward, the NFU would like to see additional funding to reduce the impact of tree pests and diseases to protect our trees and woodlands. Tree Health Grants need to be coupled with support for the GB tree and forest nursery sector, to ensure future demand for tree planting is met with GB grown material. This provenance will in turn improve biosecurity and ability of planting material to resist devastating pests and diseases.

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