Farmers should not expect to find out this year how much they will be paid to provide public goods under Defra’s post-Brexit agriculture scheme, according to a top official.
Andrea Ledward, natural environment director at the department, made the remarks at a Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum event in London this week (March 12).
Since 2018, Defra has been carrying out a series of tests and trials on innovative policy approaches such as payment by results and reverse auctions, where farmers can, for example, bid to improve water quality by reducing fertiliser use.
Ms Ledward suggested these tests and trials would be used to inform thinking on payment rates for the future Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).
She said: “At the moment we are trying to still agree what the full set of environmental benefits are which we are going to pay for, many of which are set out in the Agriculture Bill.
“We are still working through whether we are going to pay just for outcomes or are we going to pay for them to be delivered, are we going to pay for the outputs or the assets or the activities?
“I do not think you will be seeing, certainly this year, a full schedule of payments. It is going to be a case of seeing what these tests come out with, because there is a risk we go in, we incentivise, we over-subsidise, we get the payments wrong and we just do not get the kind of environmental change we want.”
Ms Ledward went on to suggest Defra was still considering whether payments would need to vary from region to region depending on environmental priorities.
If this were to be the case, it could mean farmers in different areas being different amounts to provide the same public goods.
More information on the design of the ELMS is due to be published in an 8-10 page blueprint over the coming weeks.
Some aspects of the scheme, such as forcing farmers to hire an expert adviser to put together a ‘Whole Farm Plan’ for their land, are understood to be particularly controversial.
More information about Defra’s plans as they stood in July 2018 can be found HERE.