The chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), Phil Stocker, has said that the increases to payment rates for Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes (ELMS) only “scratches the surface in terms of what is needed”.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer announced the increased payments for farmers through the Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) schemes today (Thursday, January 5).

Stocker said that while he welcomed the uplift in revenue and capital payments in CS and the additional £20/ha for the first 50ha equating up to £1,000 per SFI agreement, he believes it is only a small improvement in the wider scheme of things.

“Farmers were originally promised a detailed prospectus before Christmas, then in the New Year, and now it looks it will likely be the end of January, by which time many farmers will be busy lambing, calving and hopefully looking forward to some fieldwork,” he said.

“Uncertainty still reigns even though the intention is becoming clearer. We have seen time and again important details and decisions being pushed into the long grass.

“Farmers and business managers needed more detail 12 months ago in order to establish long term business plans.

“Although plans of updated capital payment rates, which cover one-off projects such as hedgerow creation, along with the proposed updates to the capital and annual maintenance payments for the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) and Tree Health Pilot (THP), the full picture isn’t clear, the farming industry is desperate for detail and certainty.”

Increased payment rates for ELM schemes

The increased payments plan was announced by Spencer at the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC), 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 for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

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,