Farmers should consider tapping into new and existing agri-environmental schemes to help plug lost revenue as direct payments are withdrawn, say advisers.
The basic payment scheme is being phased out from this year. But payments will remain available from Countryside Stewardship. Farmers will also have the opportunity to join the government’s forthcoming Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM).
ELM is based on the idea of paying farmers public money for public goods. It means growers and livestock producers will have to undertake environmental measures on their land in return for financial support.
An update on progress towards the ELM scheme was delivered by Defra principal adviser James LePage to an online technical conference hosted last month by the Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC).
The new scheme would make financial sense for farmers and land managers, said Mr LePage. It would be more straightforward than previous agri-environment schemes – making it simple for participating farmers.
Tests and trials
About 3,000 farmers are currently testing and trialling a prototype version of the ELM scheme. Despite its simplification, many participants say advisers will be important when it comes to ensuring the scheme is successful.
The knowledge and skills required by land managers to manage the process of scheme application and delivery were not always there, said Mr LePage – leaving a gap to be filled by third parties – including agronomists and land managers.
Feedback also suggested that some farmers were keen to seek advice because they wanted to avoid “getting caught” or unwittingly falling foul of unfamiliar scheme rules. Mr LePage said he hoped advisers would be able to shift this perception.
“That’s clearly what has been instilled in folk by previous schemes, as it is a key driver for why people seek advice. We hope in the future that it’s less of a driver. Clearly, we need to avoid fraud, but we want people to be motivated by delivering better environmental outcomes.”
Lincolnshire-based Arable Alliance adviser Andrew Wells said AICC members would play a significant role in delivering the environmental benefits and business outcomes that the ELM scheme aims to achieve.
AICC agronomists advise farmers and land managers operator across about half of the British arable area. They are frequently trusted members of the farm management team involved with many aspects of the business.