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Agricultural Transition

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021

We are almost one year into the agricultural transition. Farming in England is moving away from the arbitrary land-based subsidies and top-down bureaucracy that epitomised the EU era, towards schemes that recognise the work that farmers do as stewards of our natural environment. Our reforms will support productive and profitable farming and food production alongside environmental, climate and animal welfare outcomes.

Since January, we have increased the money going to countryside stewardship and seen a 40% increase in applications compared with the previous years, launched the farming in protected landscapes scheme, consulted on a voluntary exit scheme, launched the farming investment fund to boost farm profitability and started a pilot of our new sustainable farming incentive.

I would like to update the House on the progress that we have made, working with English farmers to co-design our new systems and support the choices that they make for their own holdings. By the end of the transition, we expect spending to be evenly split across farm-level, locally tailored, and landscape-scale investment.

Sustainable farming incentive

The sustainable farming incentive will fund sustainable farming activities alongside food production, and it will eventually be open to all farmers. It will open in 2022 with the first payments being made before the end of the year. Today I am publishing more detail on how it will operate in 2022 and how the offer will be expanded from 2023 to 2025.

Local nature recovery

Local nature recovery is the improved and more ambitious successor to the existing countryside stewardship scheme. Its focus will be on making space for nature in the farmed landscape and the wider countryside. As with countryside stewardship, it will comprise a menu of options. The options will be broader and more ambitious, focusing on biodiversity, climate, water quality and other co-benefits alongside food production. It will fairly pay farmers for using perhaps less productive areas of their farms for those purposes. We will support collaboration between farmers such as in the way that cluster farms currently operate.

Landscape recovery

Landscape recovery will create at least 20,000 hectares of wilder landscapes, habitats, rewetted peat and afforestation at a landscape scale, and we are ambitious in going even further in harnessing our landscapes for the natural environment. This option will reward landowners or managers who want to take a more radical and large-scale approach to producing environmental and climate outcomes on their land. Industry engagement has confirmed that there is demand for this scheme, and we will launch the application process—and further details of this and the local nature recovery scheme— in the new year.

While we roll out our new schemes, we are encouraging farmers to enter into countryside stewardship. Today I am also confirming that we will be updating countryside stewardship payment rates from January 2022, which will be published in the new year. We will help farmers in countryside stewardship and other schemes make the transition to our new schemes from 2024 onwards.

We are also investing in animal health and welfare. The animal health and welfare pathway will drive continual improvement in farm animal health and welfare across our national flocks and herds.

I also want to set out the high-level environmental priorities for our programme: climate change mitigation and adaptation; species abundance; water quality; and soil health. Farmers and land managers are central to delivering these priorities, to reach our commitments in the net zero strategy and the statutory targets that will be set under the Environment Act 2021, including to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.

We will set out high-level priorities and design incentives for actions that will contribute to them. Within this overall framework, it will be for farmers to choose how they want to get involved, whether that is by sparing small areas of unproductive land, changing to a more regenerative approach, or pursuing more radical land use change.

We will pay farmers for the actions that they take in these areas, and activities that provide co-benefits in other areas, such as building the resilience of the environment to climate change, improving air quality, natural flood management and coastal erosion risk mitigation. We will also continue to pay for heritage, access and engagement through our existing schemes and we will consider how to maintain investment in these areas as part of future schemes.