Peers launch inquiry into Defra's agricultural transition plan

Peers want to know how Defra will ensure sufficient support to farmers during the agricultural transition
Peers want to know how Defra will ensure sufficient support to farmers during the agricultural transition

An inquiry has been launched seeking to scrutinise Defra's agricultural transition plan, with peers raising concerns over the impact it will have on farmers.

The government’s plans for an agricultural transition in England were unveiled earlier this week, seen as the most fundamental shift in farming policy for 50 years.

In anticipation of the phasing out of EU direct payments, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee has today (4 December) launched an inquiry.

Farming groups have reacted with concern over cuts to subsidies, which will be reduced starting from the 2021 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) year.

Businesses who receive £30,000 or less per year will see their subsidy fall by 5% in 2021, followed by a gradual increase to 50% by 2024.

Those receiving between £30,000 to £50,000 a year in payments are on course to face reductions even higher than that, and farmers who receive up to £150,000 will see cuts of 65%.

The transition period from the existing to the government's proposed scheme is set to last 7 years, but Lords have questions about the impact this will have on farmers.

They are seeking to understand how the new Sustainable Farming Incentive will support food producers during the transition.

The EFRA Committee will also scrutinise the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMS) design ahead of the national pilot's launch in late 2021.

Chair Neil Parish MP said: "There are certainly questions to be asked over the coming years about the final plan. But in the here and now, it's the transition that we need to drill down into.

"The changeover needs to be done in a way which ensures farmers are not left struggling to support their businesses and in the dark about how to access the new scheme."

What will the committee ask the government?

Peers are now seeking answers on the following questions, with an initial deadline of 29 January 2021:

• Is the government’s timeframe for the national pilot, full roll-out of ELM and phasing out direct payments by 2027 feasible?

• Will the Sustainable Farming Incentive be a viable support measure for farmers before the full roll-out of ELM? Is further support required?

• How effectively has Defra engaged with land managers and other stakeholders on the design of ELM, including on the transitional arrangements?

• How can ELM be made an attractive business choice for farmers and land managers while effectively delivering its policy goals?

• How can the government ensure that ELM agreements achieve their intended environmental outcomes, reduce bureaucratic burdens and deliver value for money?

• What lessons should be learned from the successes and failures of previous schemes paying for environmental outcomes?