Farm groups concerned about the Government’s ‘lacklustre’ proposals for its new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme have joined forces to help design something ‘fit for purpose’.
The NFU, TFA, CLA, LEAF and Sustainable Food Trust are working with Defra officials to ensure the new scheme is as attractive as possible to farmers, with the aim of publishing a White Paper containing the plans this autumn.
TFA chief executive George Dunn told Farmers Guardian the industry had been moved to act when the Government published its ‘policy discussion document’ on the new scheme in February.
“It was like an old ELS manual with income foregone stamped all over it and a few additional bells and whistles,” he said.
“It really lacked the ambition which had been around in the years previously. We were also concerned that you have an organisation in the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) which is already badly administering Countryside Stewardship.
“We worried we would end up with a pretty lacklustre scheme which the RPA could just about run, but which did not do much for our members or the wider natural environment.”
NFU president Minette Batters said the alliance was particularly focused on improving the entry-level parts of the scheme, Tier 1 and Tier 2, to allow farmers to ‘climb the ladder’ if they choose.
The idea is to create a system where farmers can score points for achieving certain outcomes or taking particular actions, including those which increase productivity and bring environmental benefits.
Industry was also keen to ensure tenant farmers can access the new scheme, with the TFA pushing for legal guarantees on this to be included in the Agriculture Bill as it passes through the House of Lords.
“The big danger is many farmers across the country will step back from this after the Countryside Stewardship debacle,” said Ms Batters.
“If only 50 per cent of farmers in England decide to join the scheme, it is a disaster for Treasury and a disaster for everybody else.
“We have to make sure this is an exciting place people want to base their businesses on.”