Cities could receive farm support post Brexit

Urban land could be eligible for payments currently ring-fenced for English farmers – fuelling fears growers and livestock producers will be shortchanged as they strive to deliver Michael Gove’s post-Brexit vision for the countryside.

As well as farmland, some areas of urban and peri-urban land may also be eligible to receive payments under the government’s proposed Environmental Land Management (ELM) system, a senior Defra official has suggested.

See also: Analysis – How Michael Gove’s Agriculture Bill will reshape UK farming

The proposal has angered industry leaders who want the government’s Agriculture Bill amended to ensure future support is linked to land use after Brexit – similar to the way recipients have to pass an “active farmer” test to receive money from Brussels.

Currently making its way through parliament, the Agriculture Bill includes no such requirement. Without such an amendment, NFU president Minette Batters has warned that money once earmarked for farmers could be used to “refurbish Nelson’s Column”.

New payment system

The ELM system is the government’s replacement for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), due to be phased out over seven years from 2020, disappearing altogether by 2027. Instead of receiving an annual lump sum, farmers will have to undertake environmental measures in return for public money.

Expected to launch in 2025, the way ELM will work is yet to be finalised. But Defra head of natural science, Tracie Evans, presented some initial ideas to a meeting of farmers and land managers at Wingfield Barns, Norfolk, on 6 December.

“We want to encourage a wide uptake and we are hoping this will have as high an uptake as direct payments,” she said. Some 87,000 farmers receive BPS money, but it is hoped ELM will have 88,000 participants by 2028, she added.

“We also want to extend it maybe to other sectors, making sure those who can deliver environment benefits are delivering environmental benefits – for example, extending it to greenbelt or peri-urban land which isn’t producing food, but isn’t allowed development either.”

Extending eligibility

Defra argues extending eligibility to different land types and land managers will better contribute to the delivery of the government’s 25-year environment plan. But it says no firm decisions have yet been taken on what land could or should be eligible.

The department says it is continuing to test and trial new approaches – in addition to collating evidence from key stakeholders – to understand how eligibility can be expanded so the plan’s environmental goals are most effectively achieved.

A similar dilution of farmer funding is anticipated in Wales, where the Welsh government is looking to replace direct payments with economic resilience and public goods schemes.

Any money would be available to the entire supply chain, it suggests – including about 10,000 rural businesses which do not receive payments.