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More growers are switching land into agri-environment schemes – as they try to cut their losses following a challenging year and wet winter. Provisional... Growers switch to SFI to fend off weather woes

More growers are switching land into agri-environment schemes – as they try to cut their losses following a challenging year and wet winter.

Provisional farm income figures from Defra suggests a slump in income across a range of enterprises in the year to February 2024 – including cereals (-77%), dairy (-78%), general cropping (-58%) and mixed farms (-46%).

Final income figures are due to be published later this year. A few sectors are expected to show a recovery from recent lows – including lowland livestock (+6%) and specialist pig production (+34%). But they will be the exception not the rule.

Causes include high input costs driven by geo-political upheaval – including the war In Ukraine and conflict between Israel and Hamas. At the same time, extreme weather has weighed heavily on global markets and UK farm output.

The phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme – which has helped cushion producers from market volatility – has left farm businesses scrambling to find alternative income sources in a bid to maintain profitability.

Unable to get out into the field because of the wet winter and sodden spring, more growers are switching productive land into the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme rather than risking late-drilled cereal crops.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board suggests a 15% drop in the wheat area this year, with a 28% drop in oilseed rape and 29% drop in spring barley. Meanwhile, the area of arable fallow has soared by 80%.

This includes a “significant but unmeasured” number of growers switching to agri-environment options, said the AHDB. “Difficult soil conditions, plus profitability concerns, are reportedly making environmental schemes more appealing.”


An annual budget of £4 billion is needed to support the delivery of the government’s statutory environmental ambitions – and a balanced agricultural policy, according to analysts at the Andersons Centre, commissioned by the NFU.

NFU President Tom Bradshaw said: “Profitable farm businesses are essential if we are to deliver what the country needs; food produced to world leading standards and environmental protection.

“We need government to deliver on its promises and prioritise domestic food production with a clear commitment to a budget that can underpin food production and deliver for the environment.”

The income slump follows a good year overall for average farm incomes in 2022/23. But the NFU said the figures were still low compared to other recent years – with cereal incomes down 49% down on 2016-19 and 66% on 2018-23.

Many farmers feel ‘politically homeless’

Rural votes are up for grabs because people in the countryside have faced a generation of economic neglect, says the Country Land and Business Association.

Farmers and rural communities feel invisible and unseen by politicians, says the organisation. CLA president Victoria Vyvyan said: “Rural voters feel politically homeless and their support is up for grabs.

With a general election due this year, Ms Vyvyan said there was still time for all political parties and candidates to grasp the key issues and help unleash the potential of the rural economy – and the CLA was ready to help their understanding.

“We will work with anyone whose ambitions match those of our dynamic and forward-thinking rural businesses. Whoever produces a robust and wide-ranging plan for growth in the rural economy will undoubtedly secure support.”

Boundary changes, shifting public opinion and a record number of incumbent MPs choosing to stand down mean this year will likely see hundreds of new MPs having to get to grips quickly with unfamiliar issues.

Parliamentary candidates from across the political divide will receive a pack of information explaining six key CLA topics – issues such as profitable and sustainable farming, affordable housing, rural crime and economic growth.