It’s been a really tough year for farming. And now because of unexplained delays to a new subsidy scheme, farmers are faced with a stark choice.
Gamble on possibly getting some cash for green measures at some point in the future or, after a really tough year, go for broke and try and squeeze as much out of their land as possible.
So how did we get here? I went to stand on a hill near Wellesbourne in Warwickshire to find out.
This is land farmed by Mark Meadows, he’s also chair of the Warwickshire NFU.
From here he pointed out environmental measures he’s taken on the farm; corners of fields planted for winter food for wild birds, strips of grasses and vetches to encourage beneficial insects and grass verges to reduce runoff into local streams.
This work is funded thanks to an existing environmental subsidy, which is being phased out. Instead, the government is bringing in a new green scheme called the sustainable farming incentive (SFI).
Unfortunately a pilot didn’t attract much interest and the start date of the new scheme keeps being pushed back.
Mark told me he’s had an email from minister Thérèse Coffey saying the scheme will finally start accepting applications on Monday. But he fears it might be a staggered start and not open to all.
All this leaves farmers in a difficult position. The new scheme is, in theory, simpler to apply for and allows tenant farmers to join without having to get their landlord to agree.
This is stuff farmers like. But just at the point where, after a challenging year, cash for doing extra green stuff would be welcome, there is instead delay and confusion.
Soon it will be too late and farmers will have to move ahead with their plans regardless of what the government finally announces.
A complete reform of farming subsidy to suit individual nations was one of the touted benefits of a post-Brexit world.
And yet years later while subsidies for agriculture in general are being cut by the government, promised support for environmental work remains just that. A promise.
Defra and the Rural Payments Agency have told farmers technical issues are to blame for the delays.
In a statement the government said: “Farmers who have a live Sustainable Farming Incentive 2023 (SFI) agreement before the end of the year will receive an accelerated payment – worth 25% of the annual value of their agreement – in the first month of their agreement, helping with cashflow and ensuring SFI works for farm businesses.”
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