Defra consults on kicking off payments to farmers for environmental services

DEFRA has issued its first consultation on future farming policy, at the centre of which is the introduction of payments for ecosystem services (PES) including potentially for water quality protection and water quantity management.

The government has already committed to abandon the premise of the Common Agriculture Policy once we leave Europe – payments which are based on the amount of land farmed – and to move to a new system of paying farmers "public money for public goods".

The consultation, launched last Tuesday and running to 8 May, proposed an “agricultural transition” period during which direct payments would continue, providing stability and certainty for farmers as they prepare for the new system, but under which direct payments for the largest landowners would be reduced to free up £150 million in the first year to pilot environment and other public goods schemes. This would enable the government to honour its manifesto commitment to provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament in 2022, while exploring PES.

Among other proposals put forward in the consultation, Health and Harmony: The Future for Food, Farming and the Environment in a Green Brexit, the government is seeking views on:

  • Options for how to gradually phase out direct payments, starting with the largest landowners, whilst developing a new environmental land management scheme.

  • The range of public goods that could qualify for government funding under the new schemes, such as high animal welfare standards, wildlife protection, public access, and new technologies.

  • New business models and incentives for industry to invest in innovation and new technologies to increase their profitability.

On Monday, the Scottish Government announced Scottish Water was one of a number of public bodies that would be releasing in total over 1,000 hectares of land to be made available to new farmers to attract people to farming. Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “One of the primary barriers to attracting new entrants to farming is the availability of land…With the average age of Scottish farmers at 58 years of age, attracting new entrants to farming is vital for the long-term sustainability of the industry.”