The changes include enhanced payments for farmers and landowners through the Countryside Stewardship and the SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive) schemes, a move which NFU Vice President David Exwood said was “welcome”, but “risks being too little, too late”.
“I regret that farmers and growers are making crucial long-term decisions that are essential to running viable and profitable food producing businesses without the vital clarity needed on ELM schemes and options that will be available,” he said.
What do the changes mean?
Farmers could now receive up to an additional £1000 per year as an 'SFI Management Payment' with the payment covering up to 50 hectares of land entered into the scheme. Payments will also be backdated to when the SFI scheme opened in June 2022.
New and existing Countryside Stewardship agreement holders will also see an average increase of 10% to their revenue payment rates.
Capital payment rates, which cover one-off projects, will also increase by an average of 48% from the 1 January. The application window for these grants is now open.
"It risks being too little too late, especially given the current economic challenges we are experiencing and the rapid erosion of direct payments."
NFU Vice President David Exwood
NFU members can download our full briefing on the new changes: NFU members | ELM announcements at Oxford Farming Conference
Urgent clarity needed
“It is hugely frustrating that nearly five years on from Defra’s Health and Harmony consultation, which set farming in England on a path towards public goods for public payments, we still only have three standards available for the SFI,” David continued.
“It’s a sad reflection of the scheme’s progress and development that NFU members know more about what they will lose in direct payments than what they will gain from taking part in these new schemes.”
David outlined the NFU’s clear asks on what is needed for the ELM to succeed: “It needs to be simple, provide certainty and fairly reward farmers for taking part.
“This means schemes that are inclusive and available to every farm business - whether upland or lowland, tenant or owner-occupied - with a range of practical and profitable options available through a ‘foundation’ SFI standard to ensure the high uptake needed so these schemes have the desired impact. Ministers must also demonstrate transparently how direct payments have been redirected to the ELM programme.”
British farmers committed to net zero
David reiterated the NFU’s commitment to continue to work with Defra to improve the ELM offer so the schemes can deliver the statutory environmental targets agreed by government ministers.
Highlighting the work farmers are doing to deliver net zero by 2040, David said: “It is in everyone’s interest we ensure sustainable, climate-friendly British farming in the future, with farmers doing what they do best; producing food alongside protecting and maintaining our environment.”
You can read more about the changes to the schemes on the government's website: GOV.UK | Government to pay more to farmers who protect and enhance the environment.