Reform of the green farming schemes needed to benefit farmers and environment

A report commissioned by two of Britain’s biggest farmers suggests that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposals present an opportunity to improve existing Entry Level Stewardship in England.

The changes to agri-environment schemes suggested in the report would create a more environmentally, financially and socially sustainable approach to agriculture, helping farmers, the environment and wider rural communities.

A view of rolling countryside

The ‘CAP’ has a huge effect on Britain’s special places.

With over 220,000 hectares of farmland between them, the National Trust’s and Co-operative Farms’ report comes at a time of intense speculation about the future of CAP, with fiercely debated proposals to ‘green’ farm subsidy payments, growing EU pressure to cut funding for rural development schemes and domestic calls to “rebalance” rural development spending “in favour of competitiveness.”

Land Stewardship in England Post 2013 offers a series of practical recommendations to improve agri-environment schemes, with transferable lessons for other countries.

The report analyses the perceived gap between the entry-level scheme and the higher tier, the opportunities to enhance the upland farming scheme and the overall implications of the proposed ‘greening’ of Pillar 1.  As a whole, the report’s recommendations could help to ensure that money invested in agri-environment delivers for public benefit, ‘future-proofs’ farming and protects the natural resource base upon which the English countryside and agriculture depend. Patrick Begg, Director of Rural Enterprise at the National Trust, said:

“Successful, long-term farming is about the careful stewardship of precious natural resources.  Without that principle in place, it’s hard to see how we can continue to produce food and the other natural services that our land offers: clean water, locked up carbon, fuel for heat and power and productive soils.  We believe that the economic future of farming will increasingly centre on how this stewardship is delivered and supported.”

“For British farms to remain in business we need to act now to secure a future for them.  ‘Future-proofing’ farming will need us to direct support payments to activities that benefit nature and the wider environment and in ways that work with existing farming systems. We need to move environmental stewardship into the heart of the standard farm business and not leave it as a bolt-on, which is how agri-environment schemes have often operated in the past.”

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is currently reviewing how it will deliver the next generation of rural development schemes, which will run between 2014 and 2020. But it is likely that the Government will have less funding available. Defra currently chooses to spend the vast majority (80 per cent) of its EU ‘rural development’ funding allocation on agri-environment schemes, covering 70 per cent of farmland in England. David Watson, Head of Arable Operations for The Co-operative Farms, added:

“Our report shows that any new policy for environmentally sustainable farming must be practical, straightforward and deliverable.”

“We believe the recommendations of this report will provide genuine food-for-thought for Defra and Natural England, the two bodies responsible for the design and delivery of agri-environment schemes in England.”

“To secure a viable future for farming and rural communities, we must refresh entry-level stewardship in a way that not only makes it fit-for-purpose, but that ensures it becomes the cornerstone of rural development. This in itself would provide the continued justification for maintaining the current level of spending on agri-environment.”

 A number of individual farmers and organisations were consulted in the preparation of the report, including the NFU, Country Land & Business Association (CLA), Campaign for the Farmed Environment, Tenant Farmers’ Association and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

It also builds on the Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME) initiative and is intended to inform Defra’s work to develop the new Rural Development Programme for England 2014-2020.

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