We understand farmers are anxious about the changes outlined by Defra in its agricultural transition plan this week, but that change will offer real opportunities for the sector, says Farming Minister Victoria Prentis.
As Farming Minister, I want to support farmers as they look after their land and their animals and grow their businesses.
I also want to do all I can to make producing food more sustainable, and increase biodiversity.
Our new policies are about ensuring farming is fit for the future by spending on public goods, so the work we do will be valued by the public and future Governments in the years ahead, while maintaining our pledge to keep the overall amount of support for every year of this Parliament.
This week, we have published our plan to achieve sustainable farming, setting out how we will incentivise farmers to improve the environment, animal health and welfare, and reduce carbon emissions.
Farmers play a crucial role in our efforts to reach net zero, and we will make sure our policies help them to make real progress in this.
This will be the most significant change to farming and land management in half a century.
Change is unsettling at the best of times and the pandemic means these are difficult times for everyone, so those anxieties are even more keenly felt.
We understand that.
As we move from the old to the new, we will do it together and in a gradual, sensible way.
For all its uncertainty, change also offers opportunity.
Our agricultural transition will begin on 1 January 2021.
We will then be free of the bureaucracy of the Common Agricultural Policy, and will tailor support to the way we farm in this nation, rather than farming practices common in other parts of Europe.
When fully rolled out in late 2024, Environmental Land Management will incentivise sustainable farming practices, create habitats for nature recovery, and establish new woodland and other ecosystem services to help tackle climate change.
We will roll out early elements of the scheme in 2022 as part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, and through the launch of a national pilot next year, which will involve up to 5,500 farmers over a three-year period.
In the meantime, we will keep our simplified Countryside Stewardship schemes open to new applications during the first few years of the transition period, creating a smooth path for people to move towards the Environmental Land Management scheme when it is fully rolled out.
Next year, we will begin to move away from direct payments under the Basic Payment Scheme so the funds released can be re-invested into new schemes.
These schemes will enable sustainable food production, support increased productivity and innovation, deliver for nature, and support new entrants into the sector.
I am determined that support and advice will be available to those who need it, including both business planning and training.
To have the greatest chance of success and for the changes to have the most benefit and a lasting impact, I think it is essential that the approach is collaborative.
That is why these future schemes will be co-designed and tested in partnership with farmers, land managers and experts, and we will genuinely test, learn and adapt.
Many of you may have already been involved in one of the ongoing 68 tests and trials which are informing the new schemes.
I have visited some of these projects both virtually and on the ground and have thoroughly enjoyed talking to the farmers taking part and hearing about the lessons they had learned about how they might work together in future to deliver the best environmental goods from their land.
Many of you may also be considering applying to take part in the upcoming national pilot and I would really encourage that.
Our hope is that by designing future schemes together with farmers, these will not only be attractive to farmers, but also suited to their individual needs, while making the most of the assets their land has to offer.
This will help us to meet our ambition of raising participation in agri-environment schemes from its current level of 30 per cent up to 70 per cent by the end of the agricultural transition period.
I look forward to working together with our farmers and land managers in the years to come to make this pioneering vision for farming, and indeed our countryside, a reality for future generations to enjoy.