Anarchy in the English countryside began with the click of a government employee’s mouse. Last weekend, farmers who had been working with the government on environmental support schemes saw that their regular meetings on the topic had been omitted from their online diaries without warning.
This seemed to indicate what was feared – that the new post-Brexit agricultural support scheme was in danger of being scrapped.
When the UK was in the European Union, landowners were paid simply to administer the land. The more land a person has, the more money he or she will get.
Michael Gove, who at the time was the environment minister overseeing post-Brexit changes, decided to build a scheme whereby landowners would be paid only if they provided “public goods” such as environmental protection.
This became the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). The idea was that this would be a quick and effective way to transform the countryside, make it more nature-friendly, store carbon and create a sustainable agricultural system that is resilient to climate change and less dependent on inputs like pesticides.
However, its creation was an uphill battle, with farmers and other land managers spending hundreds of thousands of hours on experimental schemes and wading through bureaucracy. Not only that, but the National Farmers Union (NFU) has been lobbying hard to reduce environmental aspects and “focus on food productivity” – although any renewable farmer will tell you that these things go hand in hand.
The right-wing Conservative Party also hated Elms, believing he had “wake up” for spending taxpayer money on green policies. Many of those who pressure against the scheme It is now part of the Liz Truss government, so there were fears that it could be abolished once they came to power.
Farmers whose meetings had been removed contacted the Guardian, fearing that this might be the case. At the weekend, sources in the government He told the Observer That Elms has already been “paused” pending review and that “everything is on the table,” including a return to district-based payments. This effectively means giving up on Elms, a key part of the government’s net zero strategy.
Perhaps the government was hoping that using the mini-budget day to cancel meetings and decide to “review” the scheme would help it fly under the radar. However, this is clearly not the case.
With the rumors confirmed, the rural scene exploded in anger. Land managers desperately needed clarity from the government, which was not forthcoming, and charities including the National Trust, RSPB and wild animals The funds urged millions of their members to send angry letters to their deputies.
Michael Gove wrote a letter to the Times asking to save Elms, and the Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents landowners, said: “As farmers and land managers, we know you don’t have to choose between food production and environmental improvement. We can and must do both.” Even Truss’ favorite right-wing think tank, the International Energy Agency, He said support based on region “Encourage laziness”.
The chaos intensified when NFU chief Minnette Butters welcomed the review and told the BBC that nature restoration should be funded by private investors and taken out of the scheme, with farmers subsidizing food production.
This infuriated senior members of the NFU who had spent years improving their farms for nature and working on Elms – and Many threatened to quit smoking.
Bruised, bruised, and behind the blows, he tweeted: “For the record I want Elms to make for the environment and food, and be profitable for all farmers. We must take some time to correct this.”
But farmers are still not convinced. One told the Guardian: “Minette realized how far away the NFU is from everyone else. I am seriously considering moving my submarine away from the NFU to CLA now.”
The outrage even prompted the new environment minister, Ranil Jayawardena, to find a field in which to stand to shoot a video to reassure farmers. He said he was “committed to schemes” to help farmers “nurture the countryside” and promised to provide a “strong environment”. However, there has been no commitment to any specific policy, and Elms is still under review with no expiration date in sight. Clarity, instead, is promised to be given “in the fall.”
Farmers on both sides of the debate ridiculed Jayawardena’s “empty words” and compared his outcry to that of Boris Johnson. However, the fact that he felt the need to shoot the video at all reassured some that the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was listening and there could be a shift in the opposite direction.
A prominent nature-friendly farmer said: “It is good to have Devra on the back foot. They did not anticipate the outrage they would cause, but we have yet to see any guarantees about any of the environmental policies in the schemes. There is still a great risk that it will be Relax it. We have to keep the pressure going.”
However, others fear that the fragile consensus that farmers should be paid to restore nature may still be shattered.
One award-winning regenerative grower said, “It’s a bloody scary time for farming and the environment. I honestly thought we were getting somewhere with the right sniffing government support, farmers started seeing they needed to change, and people who had never looked at a hedgerow flower or a nesting bird started… Already in doing some positive things. I hope a little bit of momentum can move forward.”
Even if the government drops Elms, many farmers find eco-friendly farming good for business.
Dominic Bouscal directs environmental planning on his family’s farm in North Norfolk in Kin Hill. “The inclusion of nature in our business has made it grow and become financially sustainable: our farming is more profitable, we are attracting private and public payments for ecosystem services, and we have a growing nature-based tourism business,” he said.
Another clear example of profitable farming combined with the environment is the Riverford Organic Farm, which sends boxes of vegetables across the country.
The company’s CEO, Rob Howard, said: “We were relieved to see the environment at the heart of the new agricultural support under Elms. To hear that it is likely to be phased out under a new productivity engine is a shocking turnaround.
“At Riverford, we have been growing organically for 30 years and we are living proof that you can produce high-quality, nutritious food on a commercial level while working in harmony with nature. These schemes will open the door for more farmers across the UK to follow suit, at a time when We desperately need a change in how we produce food, restore nature, and tackle the climate crisis.”
Across the country, agricultural companies are struggling with drought and high input costs, and will soon compete with countries that have Fewer regulations after business deals for Truss. Their expectation to solve the biodiversity crisis on their own, moreover, may be a requirement too far.
BPS vs. Elms
Basic Payment Scheme
The basic payment scheme is the largest support scheme for farmers. It pays a flat rate per hectare. It’s a payment given just for managing the land, and there are few restrictions on what you can do. However, there is little environmental regulation involved – for example, an arable farm might need to grow three different crops and use 5% of their land to do specific things that are good for the environment. England’s cap for 2022 has been set at £1,845,156,000. Payments are due to be halved by 2024 and eliminated by 2028.
Environmental Land Management Scheme
This was intended to replace BPS, which many consider an inefficient use of taxpayer money, given to farmers who have few requirements for what they do with their land. This can encourage inefficient agricultural practices and the destruction of nature.
Instead, farmers will have to meet certain environmental goals, such as improving species abundance or soil quality. The scheme arises from the “sustainable agriculture incentive,” which pays farmers for environmentally friendly practices that everyone can do, to landscape-scale recovery where large landowners or small farm groups can collaborate on customized schemes to support and protect nature.