Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a major new headache, as over 300 farmers have contacted their MPs, slamming the Government as it reportedly plans to keep an often maligned EU regulation which has been accused of “impoverishing farmers”. Last month, Ms Truss announced a review of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), a new set of subsidies set to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which was widely criticised for its failures. British farmers slammed the CAP for promoting bad agricultural practices, decreased productivity and kept farmers further away from achieving net-zero goals.
For farmers, getting rid of the plan was a key Brexit, which they say is now set to be watered down by the Government.
The letter, which was sent while Ms Truss was still in office, slammed the Government for abandoning its role as a steward of the environment to promote “economic growth”.
In the letter, which was coordinated by The Nature-Friendly Farming Network and sent to 148 Conservative MPs, farmers say that this is a “false trade-off”.
The letter goes on to say that they were “promised agricultural policies that would make our farms the standard bearers for quality, sustainability, and profitability” and that weakening environmental incentives would be “a poor use of public funds and wholly against the direction of travel within the sector”.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Martin Lines, UK Chair of the Nature-Friendly Farming Network said: “After the Brexit vote, farmers were told that British agriculture would become the ‘setter of gold standards in protecting and growing natural capital’.
“But over the last five years, through a series of delays and reviews, we’ve been told to repeatedly lower our expectations. Any fundamental changes made to the Environmental Land Management Scheme, including a lack of improvement to ensure it is suitable to support all farmers, should be called what it is; a broken promise and a betrayal of British agriculture.”
Earlier this month, Ms Truss criticised publicly over these proposals by senior Tory figures including Michael Gove and William Hague, as well as the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), whose director Sam Hall described ELMS as “critical for both food security and farm profitability”.
Sources from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) previously said the Government body is considering a scheme similar to CAP, where landowners are paid an annual set sum for every acre of land they own.
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According to an EU Commission report, about 64 percent of the budget of the basic payment scheme as part of the CAP is delivered to 20 percent of the farm landowners who own large-scale farms and who already tend to be more massively profitable than smaller farmers.
In a statement, Mr Lines added: “Farmers urgently need a clear vision for the future and the right policies and political will to get us there—we need ELMS to work for all farms of every size and system.
“There is already much evidence showing how nature-friendly farming provides greater profitability, resilience and the foundations to build sustainable enterprises.
“When we farm this way, our businesses go from strength to strength. Our rural environments are improved to the benefit of local communities.
“It’s time the Government stood by its commitment in 2019 and joined the solutions to achieving a multifunctional landscape that produces food, recovers biodiversity and delivers ambitious climate action.”
Sam Hall, Director of the Conservative Environment Network said: “The Environmental Land Management schemes are a signature policy achievement of recent Conservative governments.
“They are not just critical for the environment, but for food security and farm profitability too. It’s critical that the government continues with the rollout, so that the growing number of farmers who want to adopt more nature-friendly practices are properly rewarded.”
Gareth Morgan, Head of Farming and Land-use Policy at the Soil Association, said: “Farmers know that healthy soils and a thriving natural environment are good for business; they help create resilient, reliable and productive farms.
“The Soil Association fully supports NFFN’s call to retain ELMS and is asking for urgent clarity from Defra on the future of the scheme. ELMS is an important component in the transformation needed in farming and we are working closely with NFFN to find practical ways to accelerate the transition to an agroecological food and farming system.”