Considerable uncertainty over the transition from the EU Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to an Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) of agricultural support in England, risks disadvantaging farmers or even forcing them out of business.
This is the warning from the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the House of Commons in its latest report, Environmental Land Management and the Agricultural Transition.
“Farmers could risk going out of business under a ‘haphazard’ Government-managed transition to the ELMS” warns EFRA Committee chair Neil Parish MP. “We call on the government to fully assess the impact that the biggest change to agricultural policy in 70 years will have on farm businesses, and to properly support the sector as it navigates the transition.”
The Committee says the change comes at a time of global challenge for English farmers with climate change and new trading conditions. It raises concerns intensive farming practices could be more financially viable than entering into ELMS; there has been insufficient emphasis and care’ on managing the transition process, with little time to catch up; little evidence of flexibly in response to unforeseen circumstances; and poor and delayed communications to help farmers prepare for the transition.
The Committee calls on Defra to regularly review its transition plan and develop contingency plans for flexibility in the removal of subsidies to ensure continued farm viability.
Defra must develop a clear engagement strategy which connects with the full range of farmers and land managers, or its plans will risk ‘falling at the first hurdle.’ While the Committee commends the Government’s commitment to co-design the scheme with farmers, it notes that ‘disconnect’ between listening to stakeholders and being seen to act on this feedback could ‘represent a significant missed opportunity’.
“Despite a multi-billion pound project already being underway, Defra has published no measurable objectives for the ELM scheme’s success. Before the SFI application window opens in 2022, Defra must publish precise and measurable objectives for ELM and provide detail on how these objectives will contribute to the Government’s wider environmental aims.
“In order to provide much-needed assurance to farmers that the Government is committed to sustained, long-term funding of the transition, Defra must, as a minimum, retain the current agricultural budget until at least 2029,” it says.
“This is the most fundamental change to agricultural funding in a generation, and the impact of this huge change on farmers’ incomes and entire ways of life cannot be underestimated,” adds Mr Parish. “The plan to support farmers through this transition must be robust, and it must be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. The Government appears to be determined to plough ahead with phasing out direct payments without considering how this will impact on farmers’ livelihoods and on the environment. It is essential that the Government undertake the necessary work to understand exactly what the consequences of this transition will be.”