Some Key Upcoming Developments and Changes in the Agricultural Sector
The changes in the agricultural sector following Brexit are an ever-moving feast, and so it is worthwhile to take a look at where the developments stand at this point in time.
Countryside Stewardship (CS)
In a bid to increase participation in CS schemes from 34% of all farms to 70% by 2028, the government will continue the accelerated rollout of the enhanced CS scheme, including a new higher-tier capital-only grant.
The CS scheme will now continue instead of creating a new Local Nature Recovery scheme under the SFI. Enhancements to the CS scheme have seen around 30 additional actions added, available to farmers by the end of 2024. It builds on more than 250 actions that farmers can currently take.
Since 1 September 2022, if farmers have land in a CS or Environmental Stewardship scheme, then they can apply to join the SFI online via the Rural Payments Service.
Sustainable Farming Incentives (SFIs)
Six additional standards have recently been added to the SFI in 2023, including hedgerows, grassland, arable and horticultural land, pest management and nutrient management. These are in addition to the existing three actions on soil health and moorlands brought in in 2022, which have already been adopted by nearly 1,900 farmers.
Second-round applications for the Landscape Recovery arm of the SFI are expected to be announced imminently to support large-scale nature recovery projects, including habitat creation. A total of 22 projects began last year with the aim of restoring almost 700km of rivers and protecting 263 species.
For tenants, shorter three-year agreements have been introduced without no landlord consent required, and if they unexpectedly lose management control during the three years, they can leave the scheme without penalty.
Across the board, there has been a recent announcement that there will be an increase in payment rates across all environmental schemes currently available in an endeavour to make them more attractive to farmers and especially those of smaller holdings. The first 50ha of agreement area will be uplifted by £20/ha, up to an additional £1,000 per year, as an “SFI Management Payment”, which will be backdated to the start of the SFI agreements.
There has also been an average increase of 10% to CS annual payments from 1 January 2023, as well as a 48% average increase to capital item payments from 5 January 2023 for new applications. These are one-off grants for capital works, such as hedgerow creation.
Arguably we are still not seeing the weight and reward being given to food production that many had hoped to see as the schemes are fine-tuned. There remains tension between the role of farmers to feed the nation, to act as stewards of the environment and to achieve net zero agriculture by 2040.
However, it is a new regulatory landscape for the agricultural work that is continuously evolving, and it is likely that a snapshot in six months further down the line in the transition period may look markedly different again.
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