Only 224 farmers in England were paid under the government’s flagship green farming scheme after Brexit last year, The Guardian revealed.
Leaked figures show that a small fraction of farms received payments under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), part of the Conservative government’s plan to replace farm subsidies in the European Union.
The revelations come as the government faces more anger from farmers over changes to farm payments, with the Minister for Agriculture, Mark Spencer, due to speak on Thursday in Oxford. Agriculture The conference is in an effort to reassure the industry about the future of payment schemes.
SFI payments are supposed to reward farmers for Take care of the health of their soil. Replacing EU subsidies – which are awarded based on the amount of land under cultivation and therefore weighted heavily towards large landlords, who need less subsidies – with nature conservation payments was the government’s main agricultural policy on Brexit, Unveiled in 2018.
under the incoming system environmental land management (Elms), farmers were supposed to be rewarded with it Public money for public goods, by taking measures such as digging ponds, erecting hedges, and improving wildlife habitats. But critics say the small number of payments shows a lack of confidence in the schemes.
Last year, about 102 thousand farmers They received a basic payment – the equivalent of an EU subsidy – which means that only 0.2% of those who received a basic payment got money from the new SFI scheme.
Principal payments have also been cut by 20%, losing thousands of pounds a year to many small farmers, which can make the difference between profitability and further debt.
Figures from Defra show there were 1,829 applications for SFI, with 1,662 offers accepted. Only 224 people have received their first quarterly payment as of the end of December, and 318 people are due in the new year.
The government refused to release the exact amount paid under the scheme when it was required to do so under the Freedom of Information Act, arguing that as it did not have the full data for the year’s payments yet, doing so would be “misleading”.
Farming groups said the lack of payments showed a lack of confidence in the plan, and urged the government to act quickly.
Mark Tufnell, president of the Land and Business Confederation, said: “Elms has the potential to be a world-leading policy, and many farmers are very supportive of the travel trend. However, most will not decide which schemes to enter until they know what the pay rates are and have absolute clarity about the expected standards.
“The government is starting to make progress in providing these details, but it needs to sharpen its communications to win over skeptics. These schemes can be a real success, but only if farmers are confident they will deliver for the environment, food production and their businesses.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Daniel Zeichner said this could be “catastrophic” for the environment as cash-strapped farmers would be forced to ramp up their methods in order to make ends meet, in the absence of practical schemes.
He told the Guardian: “It’s disappointingly slow and we want to get these schemes to work but the government doesn’t seem to be able to make them work at the moment. Farmers are losing money and they need to find new ways of making that income through environmental schemes.”
“There is a real fear that if there is no money for these schemes and we stand by and let the market run as usual, which the government seems to be doing, farmers will have no choice but to ramp up their farming methods, which would be disastrous for the environment.”
Long delays in implementing the schemes, which were first proposed by Michael Gove when he was environment secretary in 2018 but have been delayed several times since, have left many farmers disengaged.
Minette Butters, president of the National Farmers Federation, said: “The National Farmers Federation has consistently advocated piloting Elms delivery – while farmers in Scotland and Wales continue with unlimited BPS, farmers in England have lost nearly half their payments with no idea what the future holds. It is unacceptable. Lack of transparency about Defra’s budget at this time of unprecedented change.”
In September, when Liz Truss becomes Prime Minister, he rises Observer detection The government was looking at weakening or canceling the schemes. the New Environment Minister Therese CoffeySince then, he’s reassured farming groups that the charts will remain almost completely intact, with a full update expected in the coming weeks.
Tim Farron, environmental spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “It shows yet again that the Conservative government is failing farmers. As they cut existing payments, farmers simply aren’t getting what they deserve under the new system. Without these payments, thousands of family farmers will be out of work.” “.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Nature-friendly measures for farmers, known as standards, are being rolled out gradually and we are confident there will be more available for more farmers to join. We are moving ahead with our ecoland management plans, and implementing them in phases by 2027, while England’s agriculture budget will remain the same at £2.4 billion a year throughout this Parliament.”