SRH Agribusiness managing director Simon Haley said farmers are being told the schemes are ‘not fit for purpose’.
Defra’s Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme has experienced such a poor uptake since its launch in 2015 that agricultural advisers have been told to urge their clients to ‘use it or lose it’.
SRH Agribusiness managing director Simon Haley issued the call at the Saffery Champness rural business update seminar, Preston, last week, telling delegates that at just 20 per cent uptake, the scheme was ‘massively undersubscribed’.
He said: “They are throwing money out at the moment because no one wants it.
“Because apparently, these schemes are too hard to apply for and are not fit for purpose.”
Potentially, if the new Environmental Land Management Scheme does not come into play until 2025, farmers have got years of ‘willingly’ not having any supportive subsidy to support their farm business, Mr Haley said.
“That is not the industry saying there is nothing available for you to apply for – it is farmers saying they cannot be bothered with it. It is too much like hard work,” he said.
“I am already managing my hedges, I am already not overloading my fields with pollutants and contaminants, but I do not want to be paid for it because I cannot be bothered with a few bits of paperwork.
“That is how it looks to me, and that is how it looks to the public. Why are you not taking up that money?”
NFU deputy president Guy Smith agreed that although farmers were always keen to take part in agri-environment schemes, the current Countryside Stewardship offering had ‘too many barriers’.
“Its complexity, poor payment delivery and rates and burdensome requirements and has put people off engaging with the current scheme,” he said.
“The new Environmental Land Management scheme is not coming into play for another five years, so it is imperative that changes are made to the current scheme to make it fit for purpose and more accessible to farmers, especially grassland and upland farmers.
“We cannot have a scenario where we are left without funding for the new scheme because the old one failed to attract farmers and simply did not work.”
Defra said it had worked hard to make Countryside Stewardship easier to apply for and simpler to administer, which had resulted in a ‘year-on-year increase’ in the overall take-up of the scheme.
It added using revenue claim data for trend analysis on confidence in the scheme was ‘not an accurate reflection of the success of the programme’.
A spokesperson said: “We know there is more to do, and are working closely with the industry to build on the improvements already made to CS, simplifying guidance, streamlining processes, making changes to IT systems to allow for more online activity and boosting workforces to speed up processing.”