George Eustice has given a speech to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
He recognised the need for farm businesses to be profitable, but questioned the effectiveness of subsidy schemes, as previously designed, in delivering a healthy and sustainable industry1.
He also offered detail on the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). This is one of several new domestic schemes that replace the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy, now that the UK is outside the EU.
The new system is intended to be simple, flexible and modular, allowing farmers to participate as far as they wish – even on a field by field basis - with greater levels of subsidy requiring higher levels of commitment.
The other two schemes are the Landscape Recovery and Local Nature Recovery (detail on these is not yet ready).
Together, these schemes make up a package called Environmental Land Management (ELM). Further environmental activities are also in preparation. Policy is being developed in co-operation with farmers and other stakeholders.
Pilot SFI schemes attracted nearly 1,000 farmers and the new scheme will be rolled out more widely from 2022.
For non-animal farmers, the first phase of SFI will offer three soil management schemes. These are aimed at increasing soil health, protecting uplands and helping to capture / sequester carbon. Further schemes will be added over 2022-25.
Any farmer in England2with more than 5 hectares (12 acres) of land, who previously qualified for the EU Basic Payment Scheme will be eligible to apply.
Payments will be given in return for undertakings to carry out specified environmental improvements or activities. Agreements will last 3 years at a time.
- Arable and Horticultural Soils - £22 to £44 per hectare, for activities such as testing soil organic matter
- Improved Grassland Soils - £28 to £58 per hectare, for activities including soil management plans
- Moorland and Rough Grazing - £148 per agreement per year, plus £6.45 per hectare
For livestock farmers, SFI will fund Annual Health and Welfare Reviews by specialist vets. These will be available to keepers of 50 pigs, 20 sheep or 10 cattle, in England, who are eligible for BPS.
(1) Subsidy is critical to farm profitability. According to Defra’s Farm Accounts for England and Wales, many UK farmers would make a loss if wholly-reliant on farming activity.
(2) Agricultural policy in the UK is a “devolved” responsibility, with each national government taking a seprfate approach.