Farmers will receive increased payments for delivering sustainable food production under the government’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced today (Thursday, January 5).

Farming Minister Mark Spencer announced that increased payments would be available for farmers and landowners through the Countryside Stewardship (CS) and the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) schemes.

The increased payments plan was announced by Spencer at the Oxford Farming Conference, which kicked off yesterday (Wednesday, January 4) and runs until tomorrow (Friday, January 6).

The aim of the payment increases is to incentivise farmers to protect and enhance nature as well as providing them with more support during a time of rising input costs.

The changes mean that farmers could receive up to £1,000 extra/year for taking “nature-friendly action” through the SFI, according to the department.

The new management payment will be made for the first 50ha of farm (£20/ha) in an SFI agreement to cover the administrative costs of participation and to attract smaller businesses.

Farmers with a CS agreement will see an average increase of 10% to their revenue payment rates to cover ongoing activity such as habitat management,

Defra has said it is also updating capital payment rates which will cover one-off projects such as hedgerow creation, with an average increase of 48%.

Speaking about the increase in payments, Spencer said: “My challenge to our great industry is simple – this year, take another look at the Environmental Land Management schemes and think about what options and grants will help support your farm.

“As custodians of more than 70% of our countryside, the nation is relying on its farmers to protect our landscapes as well as produce the high-quality food we are known for, and we are increasing payment rates to ensure farmers are not out of pocket for doing the right thing by the environment.

“By increasing the investment in these schemes, I want farmers to see this stacks up for business – whatever the size of your holding.”  

Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, has welcomed the increases.

“Today’s announcement shows government is listening and adapting to the concerns of farmers,” he said.

“It reduces uncertainty, supports proper valuations and creates stronger incentives for a wider range of farms to enter into the schemes.”

However, he belives that the timeline is moving “too slowly”.

“We have had many promises of improvements in the future, but what we desperately need are details of payment rates and standards for 2023, particularly for the Sustainable Farming Incentive,” he said.

 “We believe government’s policy on Environmental Land Management schemes to be potentially world-leading, but we need a world-leading government operation to underpin it. Defra is doing good work, they just need to do it more quickly.”