Future Agricultural Support in England
The farming industry in England will have to wait a little longer to get more details on the Agricultural Transition. A Defra consultation has been expected that will cover the ‘delinking’ of the BPS, lump sum payments, and deductions beyond 2021. This was always billed as coming ‘in the autumn’ and we had hoped for September (it was originally planned before the end of 2019). It now seems that it could be late October or November before it emerges. This is unhelpful for those trying to plan future land occupation arrangements.
The reason for the delay is that agricultural policy has become entangled in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Until there is certainty over the farm support budget, Defra is unable to make key decisions on the Agricultural Transition – such as what deductions will apply to the BPS after 2021.
Further consultations may come as part of a ‘package’ later in the autumn. One seems set to be on Regulation and Enforcement. A new regime will be required to replace Cross-compliance, which becomes ineffective once the BPS is delinked from land. This is unlikely to see much of a reduction in the red-tape burden on farming as much of Cross-compliance is already law. However, the way it is enforced and the administration will be different. It also has linkages to ELM and animal welfare payments. These will only pay farmers for going beyond the ‘regulatory baseline’. Where that baseline is set is therefore quite important.
The final area that could be consulted on is the support schemes that aren’t either ELM or BPS. This would cover programmes in areas such as productivity, animal health & welfare and farmer advice & training. One new idea that seems to be gaining ground in Government is a new scheme called the ‘Sustainable Farming Incentive’. Details are sketchy at present, but the idea appears to be for an interim scheme to run alongside Countryside Stewardship (CS) until such time as ELM is fully launched (2024). The SFI would cover areas that will be included in ELM, such as soil health and emissions, that are not well supported under CS. It would seem logical that the SFI would close when ELM is fully operational, although some reports have suggested it would continue to operate ‘alongside’ ELM. There may be more detail in the upcoming consultations.
In terms of ELM itself, the national Pilot Scheme is meant to open for Expressions of Interest (EOI) in March 2021 with applications commencing in April. Presumably, in order to express an interest, some details of the pilot scheme will need to be published beforehand – perhaps February? Whilst it is always possible for the scheme to alter between the Pilot stage and its full roll-out in 2024, this will at least give some indication of what ELM will look like in areas such as options, management requirements and payment levels.
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