Uplands forum chair's views on the Sustainable Farming Incentive

NFU uplands forum chair Thomas Binns pictured on his farm in Lancashire next to a dry stone wall. 

NFU uplands forum chair Thomas Binns gives his views on the first of Defra's new environmental land management schemes, the Sustainable Farming Incentive. 

The announcement from Defra last week on the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and its vision for farming has left some uplands farmers with continuing concerns about their future.

The draft Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard leaves hope for uplands farmers that there is room for improvement. However, the limitation to the proposed payments on offer has made me, and many other members of the uplands community, feel significantly undervalued.

Defra is offering £148 fixed payment per application and £6.45/ha for 1 sample over 10ha on moorland. Although the actions are simple and achievable, there is little remuneration and, when we see such large reductions of BPS, it doesn’t allow money to be accessed through SFI for upland farmers.

Questions left unanswered

It is very unclear from the details released as to how the various stages of the government's Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) dovetail together, particularly financially. SFI22 is just the first component.

But concerning is the removal of access, beauty and heritage themes from inclusion in SFI. These themes have previously been discussed within SFI but have now been taken out of ELMs and SFI and transferred over to Farming in Protected Landscapes until 2025.

Our role in protecting the environment and managing landscapes

Farming in Protected Landscapes is a scheme that has considerably less funding, which will now be further stretched and ignores the public pressure that those areas have. That feels like a real demotion of those themes which are so clearly identifiable in an upland context.

It is simply not good enough for Defra to preach a draft tomorrow message while removing the safety net that BPS provides. Without a clearer financial picture for the individual components of ELMs, it is very difficult for farm businesses to plan. 2024/25 will simply be too late for an ink dried ELMs scheme to evaluate when over 50% of BPS income has gone.

BPS underpins so much in the uplands including farming and environmental activities.

Delivering for the public good

Both these activities need farmers to deliver them. Most combine these successfully and some even have time for diversifications. Many, when called upon, also provide the 5th emergency service.

Many schemes of old always gave recognition to the significance of Less Favoured Areas of the Uplands. They did this for many reasons, not least the recognition of difference.

As the NFU we continue to engage and assist Defra with its ELMs project. Let's keep in mind that the uplands is so much more than the sum of the individual parts. Let's ensure that the farmer's part is not undervalued, diminishing what could together deliver great public good for the future.

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