Upland farmers face 'income crisis' in transition to new schemes

The SFI scheme only equates to around 10 percent of most upland farmers’ BPS payments, the NFU warns
The SFI scheme only equates to around 10 percent of most upland farmers’ BPS payments, the NFU warns

Upland farmers have warned they face an income crisis if significant changes are not made to the UK's post-Brexit agricultural support system.

In a meeting with Defra, the NFU uplands forum said the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) failed to offer a meaningful return for the costs of managing upland landscapes.

The SFI - the first of the UK's new environmental land management schemes replacing the EU's Common Agriculture Policy - will be rolled out this year.

The reform is the most significant change to UK farming and land management in over five decades.

But there's concerns that as the BPS makes up a large proportion of upland farmers' incomes, planned reductions in these subsidies along with an absence of SFI options could trigger an income crisis for the sector.

At the meeting with Defra, the NFU said there was a lack of information, measures and sufficient payment rates currently available under the post-Brexit scheme.

According to the union, the SFI only equates to around 10 percent of most upland farmers’ BPS payments.

NFU's uplands forum chairman, Thomas Binns said hill farmers would be 'heavily impacted' by the changes in domestic agricultural policy.

"As BPS payments start to be phased out and many of us nervously await more information about the new schemes, I stressed the importance of a long-term vision for the future of the uplands sector.

“This would instil confidence that the government recognises the sector’s value in all it delivers for the public, and that we are working towards a collective goal of sustainable food production and environmental enhancement.

"It is vital that the sector’s value is reflected in the SFI scheme by delivering meaningful benefits to both farmers and the environment.”

In the meeting with Defra's farming minister Victoria Prentis, the forum called for moorland and rough grazing standard to be added to the SFI, with more options and additional levels.

New improvements to Countryside Stewardship would also be needed, such as flexible start dates with opportunity for immediate transition from Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), and a review and update of HLS payment rates for the farmers still involved in the scheme.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “This meeting with the farming minister was absolutely crucial and it is encouraging to see that she is listening to our concerns.

“The success of ELMs depends on all farmers being able to take part and be properly rewarded and it’s vital the government takes our recommendations on board to develop an SFI scheme where uplands farmers are confident in its viability.

“We will continue to work with Defra to ensure the scheme offers real value for money for both the public goods delivered and the farmers that deliver them.”