What’s the new agricultural policy looking like in England?

In February this year, the Federation of Cumbria Commoners (FCC) invited FUW Head of Policy Nick Fenwick, Cymunedau Oll Pumlumon a’r Ardal (COPA) Chair Elwyn Vaughan and COPA Secretary and FUW member Dafydd Morris-Jones to speak at their Annual General Meeting about the dangers of rewilding to agriculture and rural communities.

With farmers in Cumbria and upland Wales sharing so much in common, and many Welsh farmers hearing whispers about the pros and cons of Defra’s proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs), FCC Secretary Viv Lewis outlines the thoughts and worries of Cumbria farmers about the new scheme.

LOOkING from a hill farmers’ perspective and a long way from London, the policies and systems that are going to replace 30 years of eU farm support seem to get increasingly complex and confusing by the day. Often, we want to throw our hands up in despair, but we try to maintain an open mind and keep up-to-date, especially as we are running a practical, farmer-based test and trial (paid for by Defra) to see how a new scheme might work on common land.

earlier this year Defra proposed a new environmental Land management scheme (eLms) founded on the principle of “public money for public goods” as its cornerstone agricultural policy. alongside this, the agriculture Bill is wending its way through the House of Lords. This Bill does the legislative job that allows the Government to pay for public goods. It also gives powers (but not duties) to introduce supply chain transparency and fairness and includes other measures needed to leave eU arrangements.

We know the high-level outline of eLms. It will pay for six big public goods:

• Clean and plentiful water • Clean air

• Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazard

• mitigation of and adaptation to climate change • Thriving plants and wildlife
• Beauty, heritage and engagement

These will be delivered through three tiers.
Tier 1 is supposedly easy for all farmers to deliver and will focus on environmentally sustainable farming and forestry.
Tier 2 is about farmers delivering locally targeted environmental outcomes such as hedge and tree planting, the restoration and management of woodlands and hay meadow and natural flood management. These may need collaboration between farmers to be successful.
Tier 3 is for landscape scale land-use changes such as rewilding, peatland restoration, forest creation and coastal habitats. Defra expects farmers to decide which Tier they want to apply for and write a Land management Plan that defines the agreement between the farmer and Defra.

as the detail trickles out, our concerns increase. For example, despite promising a more open and

collaborative approach to designing eLm and a simpler scheme to boot, the Defra policy team has been working up the detail and identified 1,261+ options they may pay for. even with this huge number of actions there are significant gaps relating to the management and governance of commons, supporting native breeds and conserving the cultural heritage of farming systems. No doubt other farming sectors will have identified gaps too.

Payment rates are likely to be based on income forgone plus costs, plus variation, plus future outcomes-led payments….. What does this mean? and Tier 3 worries us. We are already seeing landowners taking hill farms with commons rights in hand or reletting farms without commons rights. It appears they are positioning themselves for Tier 3 land-use change projects. eLm could hasten the clearance by stealth of commoners that is already occurring under our current schemes as commoners are forced to cut their sheep numbers if they want to enter a scheme. We have raised this concern with Defra.

We’ve also told them with all the focus on public goods, they’re missing out the people. eLms needs the skills, knowledge and experience of farmers, farm workers and land managers to be successful and deliver positive environmental benefit, or it will get nowhere. right now, farmers need to believe they have an economic future before getting involved with eLms. But here’s the rub, eLms is due to come onstream in 2024 and at that point we expect the Basic Payment scheme (BPs) to be half its current value. This means livestock farms on average will have a 46-48 per cent drop in Farm Business Income by 2024. The sheep trade is tremendous right now and long may it last, but it’s unlikely to make up this gap by 2024.

at last, Defra are cottoning on to this yawning gap in funding and last week they announced they are planning a brand-new sustainable Farming Incentive (sFI) as a “stepping stone” to bridge the gap between BPs and eLm. Their intention is to make some of the elements of eLms Tier 1 available before the whole eLms package comes on stream, so farmers don’t fall into the funding void. However, the planning and funding of the sFI is at an early stage and not yet guaranteed.

We’re taking deep breaths and will be shouting up for commoners.

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About the Federation

The Federation of Cumbria Commoners (FCC) was set up by commoners in 2003. It grew out of an increasing concern that the opportunities and threats facing common land were not well understood among policy makers and CaP support systems. FCC’s overarching aim is to maintain and improve the viability of hill farming on common land. It does so by bringing commoners together to provide a voice for their interests at a regional and national level and provide support to commoners to manage their common land. It is now an integral part of the uplands policy community and responds to government consultations, works on secondary legislation, rPa payments to commoners, guidance notes, etc.

FCC has around 400 members (all commons rights holders) in Cumbria and another 75 affiliated members from 2 local associations in Northumberland and 3 in north Lancashire. In addition, around 70 individuals are associate members (non-commons rights holders) who support FCC’s aims.

FCC is self-financing through member subscriptions and the occasional one-off grant.

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