NFU Vice President David Exwood presented to the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum at an event on the next steps for biodiversity and wildlife protection in England.
The role of agriculture
The vice president spoke to the forum about the implementation of Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) and the way forward for achieving positive impact on the environment alongside productive farming.
The future is about partnership and building confidence.
The discussion was opened by underlining the crucial role farmers play in managing 70% of the landmass of the U.K.
“ELMs needs to be about modern, profitable, productive farming working alongside the environment”
NFU Vice President David Exwood
He emphasised that agriculture is the one industry that can deliver positive solutions regarding food security and biodiversity.
Delivery and engagement
Mr Exwood explained that the success or failure of ELMs entirely revolves around its delivery and engagement of farmers.
Previously, BPS and CAP had roughly 80,000 claimants in the England. If farmers don’t engage with the scheme in numbers, it will not succeed as a scheme. It is important to remember that the scheme is voluntary, so engagement is crucial to achieve positive results.
The purpose of ELMs, specifically the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), is incentivising good practice and the direction of travel we want to go in for food production and the environment. In terms of delivery, ELMS must deliver money for public goods.
Need for clarity
Mr Exwood highlighted that ELMs has huge potential to deliver for biodiversity and the environment. However, with this potential comes big problems regarding feasibility. Principally, after all this time we still do not know the full detail of the scheme. However, we know there are more SFI standards coming next year, but we do not know what they are or what they will look like. Mr. Exwood said ‘we need to have the whole picture so farmers can understand what it is they are engaging with and what ELMs means for the future.’
Mr Exwood outlined that the initial rates for SFI don’t look attractive for farmers, at £22 per hectare for the arable soils standard. He said: “The difficulty for farmers is seeing whether there is enough money in the scheme and whether it will be worth committing to against the current backdrop of huge volatility in food markets.
“SFI must work across all farming systems, landscapes and farming types, but at the moment we don’t have that.
“There is huge pressure on land associated with Ukraine, energy demand and the global food crisis emphasises. We have to develop a system that is about delivering good, high-quality food and biodiversity and not taking land out of production. ELMs should focus more on farming practice, such as finding areas of the farm to improve water, air quality and biodiversity.”
Take home messages
Mr. Exwood explained that as the current SFI scheme stands, there is not a focus on productive farming. He said: “ELMs needs to be about modern, profitable, productive farming working alongside the environment”.
There is a lot of good practice out there already and ELMs should be about making a scheme that rewards and encourages that good practice. The scheme has to fit farming practices, reward and encourage farmers. The future is about partnership and building confidence.