ELMs might not be shaping up to be the revolutionary scheme promised by Ministers, but my experience tells me reinventing the wheel may not necessarily be a good thing, says Efra committee chairman Neil Parish MP.
Every day, thousands of British farmers pride themselves on keeping the nation fed, so it was great to support the FG #Farm24 campaign received earlier this month.
As a former full-time farmer and now chairman of the Efra Select Committee, I see it as my responsibility to bang the drum for British farming and shine a light on the issues the sector faces in Parliament.
During Covid-19, it is even more important to raise awareness of the hard graft that goes unseen in supplying the nation’s food, day in day out.
Just before summer recess, my select committee published a report into Covid-19 and the food supply, warning that while we have a very efficient food supply chain, it is not necessarily a resilient one.
As we leave the EU and develop new trading arrangements, as well as a domestic agriculture policy, I have been arguing the case for food, making sure we do not forget the duty of Government to feed its population.
Outside the EU, the principle of ‘public money for public good’ has been drawn upon in developing a future agriculture policy under the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.
More environment than agriculture, as you can see.
Avid readers of FG will also be aware it is due to be rolled out in 2024, replacing existing schemes currently available under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
But long before then, changes are coming.
Next month, we are expecting published details of the ELMs pilots due to start in April 2021. About 1,000 farmers are taking part.
Like everyone else, I am keen to see more flesh on the bone.
We need to know more about the practicalities of how ELMs will work and how farmers will be paid across the transition.
When the Efra committee took evidence from Defra chiefs on ELMs back in June, the suggestion was that farmers would be paid monthly.
I think most farmers and land managers would welcome this, especially after the annual agony of delays at the hands of the RPA.
Those in Government argue it was the bureaucratic CAP system which delayed payments, with Countryside Stewardship being so pedantic that a four-decimal-place change in land would lead to an amended agreement, meaning tens of thousands of agreement amendments every year.
The pledge from our Government is ‘we can do things much better’; the system will be simpler, more accessible, flexible, and speedy.
Let us see.
This time, we will not have the EU to blame.
ELMs, if properly designed, will offer the UK farming industry a real opportunity to achieve ‘net-zero’ and lead the world in sustainable food and farming.
The challenge for Defra is to make the scheme as attractive as possible to farmers and land managers, whilst achieving the desired outcomes.
To put this in context, there are currently 85,000 BPS beneficiaries and 30,000 in agri-environmental agreements.
There is work to do.
It is right for Defra to be ambitious, but we must match that ambition with being realistic as to deliverability and the hiccups that inevitably come with rolling out new systems.
These things take years, let’s not reinvent the wheel.
To quote an esteemed member of our select committee on ELMs: ‘It is hardly the revolution we were promised’.
My experience tells me this might not be a bad thing.
Neil can be found tweeting at @neil_parish