DEFRA: 'ELMS WON'T be scrapped'

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Government body denies claim that controversial scheme for growers could be abolished.

NEWS that the Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMS) could be scrapped, has met with mixed reviews this week, but Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has since stated that the UK Government will NOT be scrapping the scheme.

ELMS has been a major change to UK farming and land management, replacing the common agricultural policy. Introduced following the nation's exit from the EU, it consists of three payment schemes: The sustainable farming incentive (SFI), local nature recovery and landscape recovery.

Growers subsequently receive payment for actions which generate environmental benefits, such as improving grasslands or soils.

Devised by former Environment Secretary Michael Gove, it sought to encourage farmers to create space for rare species including wading birds and dormice, as well as absorbing carbon to help England reach its net zero target. Pilot schemes have created rare habitats and brought back species including nightingales, beavers and white stork.

Since it was introduced, ELMS has had a mixed response within the potato and other growing industries, with some signing up to sustainability projects and others concerned about the impact it could have on their livelihoods. The National Farmers’ Union has also been pushing back against plans to pay growers for nature schemes rather than food production.

When news broke earlier this week that ELMS could be scrapped, NFU president Minette Batters said she welcomed the departure from ELMS. “My absolute priority is ensuring that farmers can continue to produce the nation’s food, so I do support maintaining direct payments in order to build a scheme that really will deliver for food production and the environment,” she said.

Dubbed the “Brexit bonus”, ELMS would have paid farmers and landowners to enhance nature. The Soil Association is amongst those who have reacted angrily to news that it might be scrapped.

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Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said: “We are shocked to hear reports that the Government may ditch plans to pay farmers to protect nature and climate. This would be a catastrophic mistake by the new Prime Minister," he said. "Tackling the climate emergency and mass declines in wildlife populations is vital for our long-term food security, so to abandon plans to transform the way we support English farmers at such a crucial time would be an outrage.

He added: "A handbrake turn on the progress made on the biggest opportunity to fix our broken farming support system in the last 50 years would not only betray nature and climate, it would also betray all those farmers who have invested so much already in tests and trials for the new Environmental Land Management Schemes."

He said he believed all growers cared deeply about the environment and should be rewarded for taking steps to protect it, especially in the face of trade deals that threaten to undercut British growers with imports of food ordered to lower environmental standards.

In the controversial news carried by national media sources, DEFRA sources disclosed that landowners could instead be paid a yearly set sum for each acre of land they own, which would be similar to the much-maligned EU basic payments scheme of the common agricultural policy.

Landowners and land managers who have been part of ELMS recently told the Observer that meetings with the Government about their land have been removed from the diary as the scheme goes on pause.

But a more recent announcement from DEFRA says it is simply looking at frameworks for regulation, innovation and investment that impact farmers, to make sure that policies are best placed to boost food production and protect the environment. In light of some of the pressures currently facing growers in terms of input, climate and other costs, it is simply reviewing the way ELMS is delivered, it stated.

Sources: The Observer, The Guardian, Defra, The Soil Association, NFU

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