EU-era farm payment system limiting ELM flexibility

Concern has been raised that the EU-legacy IT system used by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is limiting the amount of flexibility that can be offered to farmers participating in the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

A recent report on Defra’s IT systems by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found the department had prioritised spending on new systems to support the Future Farming and Countryside Programme, which includes ELM, but Farmers Weekly understands payments are still being managed in the EU-era programme SITI Agri.

See also: Outdated Defra control systems putting food safety at risk

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “We seem to be getting different messages from Defra and the RPA in terms of the deliverability of some of the policy statements that have been made.

“We have been asking time and time again for there to be a joint, senior-level stakeholder engagement that has the RPA and Defra in the same space where we can talk about these issues in a more holistic way.

“While we have heard from Minister Spencer to say it’s going to happen, it never happens. So we’re never able to properly address the practicalities around the IT system to ensure it’s fit for purpose for ELM.”

Flexibility at farm level

According to Mr Dunn, the SITI Agri programme is geared towards a parcel-based approach to land management, but ministers want to offer more flexibility at farm level.

Julia Aglionby, executive director at the Foundation for Common Land (FCL), said adapting the system would “always be a constraint” and Defra needed to spend more money on IT and RPA capacity to support ELM.

She pointed out the FCL had been forced to commission an app to help farmers gather data for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) moorland survey, which will underpin future ELM schemes, because the department had not provided one.

“All of this needs more resource,” she said.

“What we’re seeing is other organisations are having to fill in the gaps because Defra is not providing what farmers need.”

A Defra spokesperson insisted Defra and the RPA were working together on a common approach, “bringing our collective skills and experience together to deliver the Environmental Land Management scheme”.

“This includes building on the successful introduction of both the Sustainable Farming Incentive and enhancements to Countryside Stewardship, which both run off a common IT system.”

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