Defra’s new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will not help farmers prepare for the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, a coalition of green groups has warned.
The SFI, which Farmers Guardian published details of two weeks ago, is designed to be a ‘stepping stone’ scheme to bridge the gap from BPS to ELMs, and would pay farmers to take simple actions such as conserving soil or keeping pesticides out of streams.
But 18 environmental organisations, including the RSBP, Friends of the Earth and The Wildlife Trusts, have said introducing an entirely new scheme in 2022 will ‘complicate the policy landscape’.
They have suggested increasing the scale and ambition of the ELMs national pilot, boosting participation in an expanded Countryside Stewardship scheme or rolling out a time-limited resilience funding programme would be more effective alternatives to creating the SFI.
In a letter to Defra Secretary George Eustice, the groups said: “Defra needs to manage the transition to ELM in a way which prepares farmers for a markedly different system and hardwires ambition into ELM.
“The proposed SFI will achieve neither of those objectives and risks complicating an already crowded policy and delivery landscape.
“Without a serious rethink, the SFI risks replacing one subsidy system with another, and diverting otherwise-critical monies from investment in ELM.
“It is absolutely essential that public money is not spent on paying farmers for ‘deadweight’ actions they ought to be doing anyway, such as proper nutrient management.”
The letter also calls on Government to provide more concrete information about Defra’s plans for transition so farmers can prepare, for the ELM pilot timetable to be published and for a consultation on the different components of the Future Farming and Countryside Programme, including productivity and animal welfare plans.
Chief executive of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Christopher Price, who was a signatory to the letter, said: “The farming funding limbo Defra has created is undermining the credibility of its future farming policy.
“Public money for public goods seem to have been forgotten in the transitional funding scheme which is being proposed, with public money being diverted to business as usual.
“Farmers are being left in the dark about what money is available and unable to plan ahead to invest in environmental improvements on their farms.”