Once ELMs has run its course, the next scheme to be dreamed up by our acronym-loving leaders will be the Complete Rewilding of Agricultural Property Scheme, says Neil Farmer, an arable and sheep farmer from the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border.
It is my belief that somewhere in the basement of the EU offices in Brussels, there is a sign on a door that says ‘Section For Acronyms’, otherwise known as SFA.
The good people who work there have spent the last 50 or 60 years dreaming up the names of the various European Union schemes.
Their first triumph, of course, was the European Economic Community or the EEC.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had its beginnings in the early sixties, although it may have been implemented earlier if it wasn’t for the political clout that remained from the food shortages of the second world war.
It set out to control and influence many things in agriculture, such as an increase in productivity, a fair standard of living for those involved in agriculture, ensuring availability of the food supply, stabilising markets and enforcing fair prices.
This explains the CAP in very simple terms, when it is far from simple.
Government policy in the UK through the sixties up until we joined the then EEC in 1973 also encouraged an increase in agricultural production.
To meet this aim, farmers drained land and removed hedges and orchards to make fields more suitable for modern farming practices and machinery.
These moves were partly responsible, by the early eighties, for over-production – a phrase which interestingly, we never hear these days, and schemes such as milk quotas were introduced to cut this said over-production.
By the early nineties, CAP reform was imminent, and set-aside (SAS) was born as part of the Integrated Administration & Control System (IACS), because of the above-mentioned over-production and environmentalists having a greater voice in policy development.
Running alongside IACS was the HLCA scheme (Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance).
In 2003, IACS gave way to the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
Its intention was to decouple grant payments from production, and it was a response to criticism from other World Trade Organisation (WTO) countries.
Set-aside was reduced from 15 per cent of a farm’s arable area to 8 per cent, although it was suspended for one year in 2007 following an increase in crop prices and an aim to grow more crop for biofuel production.
Under SPS, land didn’t have to be farmed to claim the payment, but it did have to be kept in Good Agricultural & Environmental Condition (GAEC), or subject to Statutory Management Requirements (SMR), and land in a Less Favoured Area (LFA) would attract a lower payment.
All of this was of course administered by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
By 2015, the SPS gave way to the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
Now, we are now facing the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which looks like it won’t help agricultural production or investment at all, and it remains to be seen if it is any benefit to wildlife.
Despite all the hedges being removed, land being drained and fertilizers and chemicals being applied, the wildlife around here seems to be thriving.
It has been a tremendous year for butterflies, for example.
This will come as a big disappointment for many environmentalists who still blame farmers for removing hedges, as though they were being ripped out last week.
In fact, many miles of hedges have been planted over the last 30 years, a lot of them being funded by the Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme.
Surely any work proposed by the new ELM scheme will have already have been covered by the CS scheme, as is already the case with the CS Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) scheme and a similar excellent scheme – Severn Trent Environment Protection Scheme (STEPS) run by our local Severn Trent Water.
The environmentalists are never satisfied, and once ELMs has run its course, I feel sure the next scheme to be dreamed up will be the Complete Rewilding of Agricultural Property Scheme.
Neil can be found tweeting at @Nelliefarmhouse