Defra unveils further ELMS detail

30th January 2023 | Arable, Environment, Livestock, UK Policy & Regulation

Defra has published long awaited details of its Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), designed to reward farmers for investing in sustainable agricultural practices as the former EU direct subsidies are phased out. Defra minister Mark Spencer launched the package in the House of Commons.

Defra says the three levels of ELMS will “support farmers to be profitable and resilient as they produce food sustainably while protecting nature and enhancing the environment”. It is accelerating the roll out of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) first level of ELMS – “providing farmers with a diverse range of paid actions to manage hedgerows for wildlife, plant nectar-rich wildflowers and manage crop pests without the use of insecticides.”

There are six additional SFI standards to be added this year, carrying payments for actions on hedgerows, grassland, arable and horticultural land, pest management and nutrient management. These are on top of the existing three standards to improve soil health and moorlands introduced last year – which Defra says now have 1,900 participants.

SFI payments include £989 annually for completing a BASIS-qualified integrated pest management (IPM) assessment and IPM plan, £589/year for a FACTS-qualified farm nutrient management assessment and review, a £45/ha incentive to not use insecticides and £732/ha for the establishment and maintenance of winter bird food mixes for farmland birds.

“We welcome today’s announcement on SFI from the government, which is the product of a number of years of input from AIC and other industry stakeholders,” comments AIC environmental policy manager Andrew Pearson. “It is particularly welcome that by taking BASIS-qualified advice on IPM, farmers will get almost £3,000 over the course of their three-year SFI agreement. Meanwhile, taking FACTS-qualified advice on nutrition management will qualify farmers for a payment of almost £600 a year.”

As trailed at the Oxford Conference earlier this month, the SFI will come with a simplified application process, quarterly payments and shorter, three-year agreements.

There will be an enhanced version of the second tier of ELMS, the new Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme – CS Plus – with 30 additional actions from the existing list of 250 actions, which will come into effect before the end of 2024. CS Plus will reward co-ordinated action where neighbouring farms and landowners work together to support climate and nature aims. It replaces the previously envisaged Local Nature Recovery scheme within ELMS.

The third part of ELMS, the Landscape Recovery scheme, will open for applications this spring for large-scale nature recovery projects, focusing on net zero, protected sites and habitat creation. There are 22 projects underway involving groups of land managers and tenant farmers.

NFU vice president David Exwood welcomes the additional detail on the future ELM programme and broader, more flexible SFI offer, which he says provides some of the clarity the industry has been asking for.

“For farmers and growers making crucial long-term decisions that are essential to running viable and profitable food producing businesses, it’s vital they have the full scheme details as soon as possible and know how the different schemes will work together,” he says.

“A speedy application and payment process will also be key to give farm businesses some much-needed security. If ELMs is to be successful, we’ve always said that it needs to be simple, provide certainty and fairly reward farmers for taking part. This means schemes being developed that are inclusive and available to every farm business – whether upland or lowland, tenant or owner-occupied.”

A Defra spokesman adds: “The 2019 manifesto commitment maintains the annual farming budget of £2.4 billion until the end of this Parliament, with all reductions from farmers’ direct payments reinvested back into the sector. All three ELM schemes are accessible to farmers with the budget managed flexibly so that we can achieve the best value for money and deliver the intended outcomes in ways that best suit farmers and land managers.”

Full details of the ELM updates are available here, with payment rates to be found right at the end.