Emily Linton explores how Defra can ensure ELMS delivers a fairer and more sustainable farming future
8th December 2022
The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission was established in the wake of Brexit to help shape a new and shared version of a more sustainable future for food and farming, so we are deeply interested in ELMS and its potential to support this farming transition. Following the recent ELMS review, it is useful to reflect on how far things have progressed, and how far there is still to go, in creating a scheme that can deliver real change.
Of course, trying to create the enabling conditions for a successful farming transition at a time when farmers are battling the multiple challenges presented by sky-high fuel and fertilisers prices, rising inflation and market uncertainty is far from ideal. And yet, the evidence is increasingly clear. Shifting to new ways of farming that enable farmers to work with nature has the potential to benefit the environment (by sequestering carbon, reducing emissions, restoring ecosystems and biodiversity, mitigating flooding etc) and help farming businesses to thrive (such as reducing dependencies on fertiliser and fuel, increasing resilience in the face of climate change).
Farmers are on the front line of these issues, with real skin in the game, and, have spent the last five years engaging in painstaking discussions. There was an outcry when the review of ELMS was announced. People feared the whole scheme might be scrapped. Yet DEFRA is struggling to meet its targets to enrol 15,000 farm businesses by 2024. In our conversations with farmers and farming organisations, we repeatedly hear the frustration at both the delay in rolling out the schemes and the lack of detail within them. The delay has also meant that other big questions about areas such as natural capital markets, biodiversity net gain legislation and the production of healthy, affordable food in a cost-of-living crisis have crowded in, and complicated an already complex picture. This makes it even harder for the government to bring in clarity to a challenging situation.
So, what next? What should DEFRA focus on to ensure ELMs meets the governments ambitious targets around enrolment and delivers on environmental benefits? We think they should prioritise the following areas as we move into the new year:
Although questions remain, a focus on these key areas could significantly shift the dial to create the enabling conditions for a successful farming transition. We'll be bringing farmers and policymakers together at the Oxford Farming Conference in January to discuss how a Land Use Framework can work alongside ELMS to catalyse a more aligned transition to a fairer and more sustainable farming future. With decisive action and clear policy signals, the consensus is clear: farming will be a force for change, and part of the solution to the critical challenges ahead.