The path to sustainable farming

The government have now set out their plan for agriculture for the next few years. It can be accessed on the government website and is called The Path to Sustainable Farming: An agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024.

The government are trying to achieve a renewed agricultural sector producing healthy food for home and abroad, where farms can be profitable and economically sustainable without subsidy.

They want farming and the countryside to contribute to environmental goals including climate change.

The Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), direct payment to farmers will be phased out by 2027 and replaced with Environmental Land Management schemes. Payment will be simplified as the three crop rule will be abolished
as will the rule that you must use all your entitlements at least once every two years. Also, from 2024 the BPS payments will be delinked from the land.

There will be a lump sum available for farmers who wish to exit the sector. There is no real detail about this, however as the BPS payments are coming down by about 50% by 2024, I cannot see the lump sum being any more than
around £130 per acre if it starts after the 2022 payment has been received. We will wait and see.

In the meantime, the BPS monies saved will be used to provide grants and other support to farmers to manage the land more sustainably.

In 2022 and 2023 the government will start to roll out the Environmental Land Management schemes, and these will be fully operational by 2024, and the scheme in 2024 will be open for up to 5,500 farmers. The Countryside Stewardship schemes will continue and be open to new entrants.

These schemes aim to pay farmers and land managers for delivering public goods. These public goods include clean and plentiful water, clean air, thriving plants and wildlife, beauty, heritage and engagement, protection from
environmental hazards and mitigation of climate change.

There will be a sustainable farming incentive, which will be a payment to farmers for environmentally sustainable land management that all farmers will be able to participate in. Details will follow from the government by June 2021.

There will be local nature recovery which will pay farmers from 2024 in relation to actions that support local nature priorities. There will also be landscape recovery which will be in place from around 2022 onwards and pay farmers to support long-term land-use change projects including rewilding.

Specifically, there will be standalone programmes to support tree planting and peatland restoration and nature recovery.

In 2022 there will be a slurry investment scheme to help reduce pollution from farming. There will also be increasing rules about slurry management over the transition period to 2027.

Although it can feel like it, farming and food production has not been totally forgotten in the policy paper. There will be grants available to help farmers increase productivity, and support for new entrants in some form. There will also
be increased investment in research, development and innovation.

Grants will be available for farming business to purchase specific equipment. There will also be grants with the aim of helping transform business performance, for example by making more efficient use of water, nutrients, or
pesticides. Applications for some of the grants will open in autumn 2021, so watch out for more information over the next few months.

Overall the plan is still very much in the policy stage, although we are starting to see the government put some flesh on the bones. Those who adapt to the changes quickly will fare best

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