Farmers – still – await the fruits of Brexiteer’s labour. Leaked figures, as revealed by the Guardian, show that just 224 farmers have been paid under the government’s flagship post-Brexit environment-friendly agricultural scheme last year.
A small proportion of farms received payment under the sustainable farming incentive (SFI), which supposedly rewards farmers for looking after the health of their soil, replacing EU subsidies that are awarded based on the amount of land farmed. In 2018, it was hailed as the government’s star agricultural policy but the results are yet to come to fruition.
Mark Spencer, minister for food, farming and fisheries, spoke today at the Oxford farming conference in a slap-dash effort to reassure an industry looking for, at best, financial support, and, at worse, transparency and answers. He announced up to £1,000 extra cash for English farmers taking nature-friendly steps under SFI. Perhaps a little ambitious with already promised payments yet to be received.
The incoming system of environmental and management (Elms) was proposed to reward farmers with “public money for public goods”. But confidence is waning following the lack of payments made.
Last year, 102,000 farmers were given basic payments equivalent to the EU subsidies, meaning that 0.2% of those who received basic payments were awarded money under the new scheme. These basic payments have also been cut by 20% with smaller farms now paying the price.
Figures from Defra show that there have been 1829 applications for SFI. 1662 of these have been accepted and just 224 of those had received their first quarterly payments by the end of December with 318 due to be paid in the new year.
In September, Liz Truss’s government looked at reducing the size of the plans, and there were even rumours of scrapping them altogether. Thérèse Coffey, the new environment secretary, however, has since rushed to the industry’s aid, reassuring them that the schemes remain unscathed by Truss’s 45 days in office. They await a full update from Coffey in the coming weeks.
In reality, farmers may be waiting for these answers ‘til the cows come home. They can only hope that when Coffey does have updates, they will be more inspiring than the one she offered when asked what she was personally doing to address the climate crisis in the lead-up to COP27. Her answer? “Permanent cups”.