Bad news can hit you with a bang or it can creep up on you. The changes at Britain’s borders had an immediate impact, but for many farmers in England the consequences of losing income from the EU Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) are only now sinking in. For farmers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland payments will remain the same – at least for now. In July, Farmers Weekly (30th July, 2021, p.30) published a farmer survey which found that 95% of farmers received annual basic payment. A little over half get up to £30,000, and for larger farms the sums are considerably higher as the payment depends on the acres farmed.
Now that Britain has left the EU, payments for English farmers will be phased out gradually with the last one to be made in 2027. Instead, they can apply for money through the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme (SFI), one of three programmes under the Government’s Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs).
If that sounds complicated that’s because it is. ‘Public money for public goods’ is Defra’s catchy slogan, but at present it is still unclear how much money farmers will eventually be paid and for what – the four-year trial phase of the scheme only began this summer, the general SFI rollout is planned for the middle of next year.
So far, only one thing is absolutely clear: ELMs will not be a full substitute for the EU Basic Payment Scheme. At best, farmers will be able to make up about a third of BPS through ELMs.
The Farmers Weekly poll reflects what that means: three-quarters of farmers have no idea how their business will survive without BPS. ‘Some 53% said it would be difficult to replace the lost income, with a further 26% unsure if they could.’