Cash boost and new incentives for nature-friendly farming welcomed

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay has announced updates for the government’s Sustainable Farming Incentives, including a 10% funding uplift, during a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Farmers organisations have welcomed the cash boost and unveiling of new incentives for nature-friendly farming including agroforestry and rewetting peatlands.

Responding, Soil Association Chief Executive Helen Browning said, “As both a farmer and an environmentalist, my mind is buzzing with the potential opportunities that could open up for my farm following this announcement from Defra. Many farmers are already working with nature and many more are keen to do so but have been waiting for reassurance from government.

“There is widespread agreement that we need a farmer-led tree revolution, so I am delighted to see vital funding coming through this year for agroforestry and wood pasture, alongside further support for farmers to create habitats.

“With further incentives for combining nature-friendly practices, we could finally be moving towards a resilient farming system where farmers produce good food in harmony with wildlife across all of their land, as agroecological and organic farmers already do. This is essential in the face of the escalating climate and nature crises – small tweaks to the status quo will not be enough.

“We want to see the budget for agroecological farming doubled, so today’s funding uplift is an important step forward for our farmers who are under huge pressures. We hope this will lead to more investment in sustainable farming, alongside support for farmers to enact whole farm plans for nature and move away from harmful practices.”

The Nature Friendly Farming Network also welcomed the statement and said that the addition of new actions and payment rates could play a crucial role in supporting food production through a more resilient, healthy environment.

However, the organisation says work remains to be done to provide a comprehensive offer for all farmers to deliver joined-up, ambitious land management. The network says it is looking forward to continuing constructive conversations with Defra about shaping a way forward to ensure nature-friendly farming is backed at scale right across England.

NFFN Chief Executive Martin Lines said, “We are pleased that Defra has listened to what nature-friendly farmers are saying and there are actions we have called for such as support for agroforestry, species-rich grasslands and connecting river and floodplain habitats. Many people have been heavily impacted by extreme weather recently and this gives farmers necessary tools to help address these issues by storing water on their lands to prevent further flooding downstream.

“This offer maintains the commitment to pay farmers public money for public goods which the market currently does not reward. Delivering environmental improvements is a core cost for many farmers and this is another important step forward in supporting them to do this.

“There remains work to do to tie all this together so the agricultural transition truly delivers the best outcomes for all farmers but it is a welcome next step in the right direction. We will be working with Defra over the next few months to ensure this is a programme that works for farmers while also delivering on the Government’s climate and nature targets.”

A Soil Association spokesperson added that the organisation is keen to see additional progress. Specifically they are calling for:

  • A good advice service for the Sustainable Farming Incentives to ensure high take up of the good options currently available for farmers.
  • A focus on outcomes – we want to see government monitoring to check these practices are working for wildlife, the environment and animal welfare.
  • Reliability of the delivery of outcomes on-farm to be facilitated through implementation of whole farm plans for working with nature, and recognition of whole farm systems.
  • Support and regulation to help farmers move away from practices that are harmful and drive pollution both in the UK and overseas, with reduction targets for artificial fertiliser, harmful pesticides, and imported feed.
  • Research into alternatives to peat as a growing medium and palidiculture – growing in rewetted peat – to build on the welcome new payments for rewetting peat.

Read the government’s Agricultural Transition Plan update January 2024, including new payment details


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