DEFRA Pilot to Review Environmental Incentives to Arable Farmers
Tim Sedgewick, Associate Director for H&H Land & Estates, has welcomed a DEFRA comment to review payments to farmers under the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship.
Defra’s pilot scheme for the Sustainable Farming Incentive was designed to encourage farmers to be more environmentally aware and to help them make changes to their land that will promote the environmental. Successful applicants will be paid a grant to take arable land out of production and to encourage hedgerow growth and diversity.
Tim says: “We are currently assisting farmers with their applications for the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot, and are finding that few are better off. In some cases, as the cost of implementing the requirements may outweigh the payments, they will be out-of-pocket. Farming’s contribution to the environment needs greater financial recognition.
As well as being counterproductive to environmental causes, this greatly discourages farmers from entering these, and other similar initiatives.
For instance, within the Sustainable Farming Incentive, the Advanced Arable Land Standard requires that 10% of land be taken out of production and that areas for nesting and cover habitats be established with flowers and bird seed. In addition, 2% of arable land must be planned to create or maintain areas of tall vegetation, scrub, and wet features. The pilot proposes a payment of £74/ha. This implies to the farmer that they will be arguably better off financially keeping the land in production.
In addition, the Hedgerow Pilot Standard requires a buffer of 4m around at least 75% of all hedgerows, including needing an average of one hedgerow tree every 100m of hedge. The advanced payment is low at only £24 per 100 metres of hedge. Again, some land is out of production and the cost of obtaining trees is almost prohibitive.”
Janet Hughes, DEFRA’s Future Farming and Countryside Program Director, admits rates for the Countryside Stewardship Scheme have not been updated since 2013. She adds, “We are now reviewing them to bring them up to date, and we haven’t decided the best way to do that. It has to be fair and uniform across the board.”
Janet continues, “There is potential for payments to vary. We will consider the results of the payment review and also the feedback from farmers. Farmers will continue to be consulted.”
Tim Sedgewick adds, in conclusion, “I believe that the standards laid down in the SFI Pilot are a start, which could deliver benefits to the farmed environment, and farmers will want to play their part. However, the payment rates will require a drastic increase to facilitate meaningful participation. DEFRA should be encouraged, for their work to date in designing the Sustainable Farming Incentive Scheme, which is the first pillar of the new domestic agricultural policy, but they need more money from their friends in the Treasury to see it delivered by farmers on the ground. Otherwise, it will come to be known as the Sustainable Farming Alternative and many will stick to what they know as there is simply no real incentive to take part.
Defra recently announced that it had extended the deadline for applications to the pilot SFI scheme from the beginning of September to the end of September. Then they will announce the number of applications they have received. They are still confident they will meet their target, based on the interest expressed.