Firms, farmers and charities call for ‘decisive action’ on agriculture payments
Supermarkets, banks, farmers and nature groups have called for more ambition and “bold, decisive action” on new wildlife friendly agriculture subsidies.
In a joint statement, organisations ranging from Tesco to WWF warned that farmers and land managers urgently needed “vision, clarity and detail” on the roll out of the new environmental land management scheme (Elms).
The Elms payments, which cover England, will replace the EU regime for agriculture where subsidies were mostly on the basis of the amount of land farmed, with a system paying farmers for “public goods” such as clean water, wildlife habitat, healthy soils and access to the countryside.
Alongside payments for sustainable farming practices such as managing soils, Elms is designed to pay for “local nature recovery” habitat creation on farms, and “landscape recovery” projects to restore nature at a large scale, including rewilding schemes.
But a review of the scheme during Liz Truss’s brief premiership prompted concerns that it was being watered down, and delays to unveiling payments for elements of the scheme – even as cash under the old regime has reduced – has worried farmers also facing high prices for fuel and fertiliser.
The statement has been signed by Aldi, Lidl, M&S, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco, banks including NatWest and HSBC, countryside and farming groups including the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the Nature Friendly Farming Network and the Landworkers’ Alliance.
Other signatories include the RSPCA, Red Tractor, organic certification body Soil Association, Arla Foods, Ocado and a range of conservation and green organisations including the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB.
The statement, co-ordinated by WWF-UK, said the organisations were “united in support” of Elms.
“We are calling for the ambition and delivery of all parts of Elms to be raised to support farmers to work with nature, reduce their input costs, and adapt to a changing climate, all while providing healthy, affordable, high welfare and sustainable food,” it says.
“Now is the time for bold, decisive action, if we are to create a productive, regenerative and resilient food system into the future.”
It also said that the organisations were ready to work together, and unleash the potential of the private sector, “as long as a strong and secure policy signal from government is in place”.
The organisations warned that the UK’s legal commitments to tackle climate change and nature loss depended on the way land was used to produce food, and enhancing the Elms scheme was “the single largest act of leadership and support” the Government could give to the issue.
“Now is the time to move forward without delay, it urges”.
Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF-UK, said: “Currently, the only action we’re seeing on Elms is ongoing delays and tinkering with names.
“Defra need to move on from the upheaval and delays of recent months and deliver on their promise to farmers with the clarity, ambition and certainty they need.”
And as environment ministers met in Montreal to hammer out a new deal at the UN Cop15 meeting to halt and reverse declines in nature by 2030 to protect lives, health and economies, she said: “We urgently need world leaders to commit to a shift to nature friendly, low carbon farming.
“Not only will this help in our fight to restore nature, and tackle climate change, but will also make the farming sector more resilient and underpin food security.”
A spokesperson for the Environment Department (Defra) said: “We have already opened two of our three new Environmental Land Management schemes and are pressing ahead by fine-tuning and expanding them to make sure they help to deliver our ambitious outcomes on the environment and support a thriving food and farming sector.
“Food production and the environment must go hand in hand.”
They said thousands of farmers had signed up to the sustainable farming incentive (SFI), 22 large scale nature recovery projects have begun and there are set to be 32,000 countryside stewardship agreements – which support environmental work – live at the start of 2023, a 94% increase from 2020.