‘Just Transition’: Farmers press Defra to boost budget for green schemes

The Landworkers Alliance has launched a new campaign pressing the UK Government to double its agriculture budget, arguing for an uplift in funding to help the sector deliver a just transition in line with the nation’s nature and climate aims.

‘Just Transition’: Farmers press Defra to boost budget for green schemes

The Alliance, which represents thousands of farmers and foresters across the UK, is bemoaning a budget drop for farming since the completion of Brexit.

It alleges that the UK recieved £4.7bn of public funding in 2019, when it was still in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, of which £3.6bn was spent on farming subsidies.

In contrast, £2.4bn –  less than half a percent of the UK’s annual public spending – was set aside for UK farming subsidies last year.

This drop in budget has been compounded by rising costs for farmers, including price hikes for fuel and fertilizer linked to Russia’s war with Ukraine, the Alliance has stated. Added to the mix the additional burden of compliance with forthcoming environmental regulation, plus continually low farmgate prices.

These challenges have prompted many farmers to protest across the UK in recent weeks. Some are coming out in staunch opposition to new environmental requirements, but the Landworkers Alliance says the need to limit the sector’s climate impact and restore and protect nature “is now beyond dispute”.

It is advocating for the Government to come up with a fully costed plan for a just transition to net-zero by 2050 for the sector, and alignment with binding nature goals, which also support farmer livelihoods.

Among the Alliance’s demands are the creation of specific payment packages for farmers looking to switch to organic production plus higher payments under the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS).

ELMS rewards farmers for ‘public goods’ such as clean water and healthy soils, as well as for their food output. The Government did confirm an uplift to some payment levels earlier this year but the Alliance wants this to go further still.

The Alliance has cited 2023 research backed by The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and The National Trust which concluded that £4.4bn is needed each year for UK farming to align with national nature targets. The National Farmers Union’s own estimates are for a £4bn budget this year.

Beyond grant and loan funding, the Alliance wants the UK Government to facilitate advice, mentoring and support networks for farmers, giving them the practical advice they need.

Its head of policy Jyoti Fernandes said: “There will be no food if we don’t sort out the ecological crisis, and there will be no food if farmers can’t earn a living growing food and restoring the land. We need a green transition, so farmers can work with dignity as they change the way they farm. So many farmers are already pioneering nature-friendly farming methods but they too are being left behind.”

“It’s time for the UK Government to take food and farming seriously and double the agriculture budget to support a green transition in farming that doesn’t leave farmers behind.”

edie has reached out to the UK Government’s Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) for more information. A spokesperson said: “It’s inaccurate to say that farmers receive less funding than when we were in the EU. The Government is delivering £3.6bn a year to farmers across the UK – the same as when we left the EU.

“In England, we’ve maintained the £2.4bn annual farming budget and recently set out the biggest ever package of grants which supports farmers to produce food profitably and sustainably. We are also looking at ways to further improve fairness in the supply chain and make food labelling fairer, supporting British farmers and growers and ensuring British produce gets the recognition it deserves.”

Related news: Defra seeks to allay food security fears with tweak to farmer payment schemes

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