The Environmental Land Management scheme is an opportunity to reset the approach to land management in England and deliver benefits for the environment whilst also promoting a sustainable and productive farming sector, but the Scheme appears beset with many of the same issues that have undermined ambitious Government programmes in recent years.
The Scheme’s success depends on increases in farming productivity alongside changes in land use that will bring environmental benefits, but the Department has given no detail about how either the necessary productivity increases or environmental benefits will be brought about, nor how these will offset the Scheme’s dramatic effect on English farmers, who will see their income from direct payments reduce by more than half by 2024–25. The Department concedes its confidence in the scheme looks like blind optimism without the details of what it has planned, and the lack of information from the Department early enough to allow farmers to plan their businesses and take full advantage of the new opportunities the Department is causing anxiety in the sector, exacerbated by a historic lack of trust caused by the Department’s past failures in managing farm payments. The Department’s engagement with the farming sector is improving, but there is still a long way to go. The Department has also not explained how the Scheme’s changes in land use will not simply result in more food being imported, with the environmental impacts of food production being “exported” to countries with lower environmental standards.
The Department has not established robust baseline of metrics or clear objectives which would allow it to measure the success of the scheme. and assess whether the £2.4 billion it plans to spend on agricultural schemes during each year of this Parliament is providing value for money and contributing to government’s wider environmental goals, such as net-zero. We expect the Department to explain how it will ensure that it balances domestic food production and food imports as a result of the scheme and manages the risks of price rises and food imports from countries with lower environmental standards.