Farmers have been told they no longer need to comply with “greening” rules for EU subsidies from next year, allowing them to focus on the transition to Britain’s post-Brexit environmental payment scheme.
Defra has announced the move to “reduce administrative burdens for farmers” as they begin the move towards the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which is due to replace the EU’s system of land-based “direct payment” subsidies.
The EU scheme required farmers to carry out green practices such as leaving land fallow, creating field margins, or planting nitrogen-fixing crops such as peas and beans – or risk losing a percentage of their payments.
But Defra says these requirements have “historically delivered little for the environment”, so they are being removed from 2021 under plans to cut red tape and simplify the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) during its seven-year phase-out.
It says the replacement ELMS scheme, expected to be rolled out in late 2024, will deliver better environmental outcomes by rewarding farmers for delivering “public goods”, such as tree or hedge planting, river management to mitigate flooding, and creating or restoring habitats for wildlife.
Environment secretary George Eustice said: “The so-called greening requirements have added little to our environmental efforts. We believe that farmers will benefit from this reduced bureaucratic burden next year as we begin the move towards our new Environmental Land Management Scheme which will deliver greater benefits for the environment.
“We will be setting out more detail in the autumn on how we will ensure a smooth transition for our farmers, as they move towards our new, fairer agricultural system, which will reward them for the hard work that they do to protect our environment.”
The move was welcomed by farming leaders in East Anglia. Gary Ford, regional director for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “This is welcome news for farmers in East Anglia. We’ve been seeking clarification on this for many months, as arable farmers need to know what rules apply before finalising their harvest 2021 cropping plans.
“The removal of greening will significantly reduce the red-tape burden facing farmers claiming BPS but it’s important to stress that farmers will continue to care for the environment. Many of the elements under greening are protected by other legislation anyway.
“Our focus now will be on helping to develop the new Environmental Land Management Scheme, including through pilot initiatives in the Brecks and the Broads, to ensure it delivers for farmers, the public and the environment.”
Defra said the changes will not affect the overall payment received by each farmer as the “greening” money will instead be added to farmers’ BPS entitlements during the transition. Farmers will also continue to be able to apply to Countryside Stewardship schemes until the future scheme is rolled out.