22 June 2021

Environmental Land Management schemes must engage harder to reach stakeholders to be successful, say experts.

Dr Ruth Little, from the Institute for Sustainable Food will today (22nd June) give evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry into Environmental Land Management and the Agricultural Transition.

Silhouette of a farmer carrying animal feed through a field. A dog follows the farmer and a cow is in the foreground. Photo by Mihail Macri on Unsplash.

Dr Ruth Little, from the University of Sheffield Department of Geography and member of the University’s Institute for Sustainable Food will today (22nd June) give evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry into Environmental Land Management and the Agricultural Transition.

The Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme replaces European payments to farmers and landowners from 2024 and is intended to support the rural economy while achieving the goals of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

At the time of leaving the European Union, 42% of farms in the UK did not make a profit over and above the Basic Payment Scheme. Therefore, to avoid substantial knock-on effects to livelihoods and landscapes, it is imperative that the new ELM scheme is properly planned and implemented. 

Research led by the University of Sheffield, in partnership with the University of Reading, has highlighted the need for skilled intermediaries who can support farmers through the post-Brexit agricultural transition, and help mitigate the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on farmer engagement with the ELM scheme.

The researchers argue that a successful transition to the new ELM scheme hinges upon the uptake, participation and, importantly, buy-in of the scheme amongst farmers and land managers. The researchers state that to achieve this buy-in, Defra must involve harder to reach stakeholders in the design of pilot schemes to ensure the needs of these groups are met.

Dr Ruth Little Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield, said:

“This is a period of significant uncertainty for farmers. Even before the pandemic, the period between 2021 and 2028 represented significant uncertainty and change for farmers within England, due to policy changes and post-Brexit trade deals. 

When we spoke to individuals and organisations working with farmers we found that the pandemic had increased social isolation due to the closure of places where farmers normally socialise, and created uncertainty in planning ahead, exacerbating farmers’ mental health and wellbeing problems. 

Defra needs to take all this into account when designing the implementation of the ELM scheme. They need to mobilise a network of intermediaries that understand the individual needs and circumstances of farmers and land managers at this challenging time, and can facilitate the involvement of these groups in the co-design of pilot implementation schemes. Without this, we believe Defra will see a low uptake of the ELM scheme resulting in a reduction in the delivery of environmental goods and climate change targets not being met.”

Dr David Rose at the University of Reading said:

“Defra has an extensive catalogue of lessons learned from forty years of implementation of agri-environment schemes. This wealth of experience, much of which is reinforced by our research, shows that we need to close the digital divide that locks farmers out of engaging with Defra,we need to simplify scheme bureaucracy, and engage through trusted skilled intermediaries.”

At today’s call for evidence, Dr Ruth Little will be making the case for tailored, impartial advice accessible to all farmers and land managers, including demonstration farms, and other knowledge-exchange activities that will support the achievement of productivity and the provision of public goods, as well as environmental and climate change goals.

The team of researchers have produced a white paper to summarise their findings, "Engaging ‘harder to reach’ farmers: the roles and needs of skilled intermediaries".

Download the white paper

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