A new agricultural land management system, known as the The Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, is the cornerstone of the UK government’s new post EU agricultural policy.
It is founded on the principle of ‘public money for public goods’, and ELM clams to provide a powerful way of achieving the goals of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, while supporting the rural economy.
The scheme means farmers and other land managers may be paid for delivering the following public goods:
- clean air
- clean and plentiful water
- thriving plants and wildlife
- protection from environmental hazards
- beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment
- reduction of and adaptation to climate change
The government is now running tests and trials on a national pilot, before a full roll-out of the new scheme in 2024.
A major concern about the new scheme is its ease of access for tenant farmers. It has been noted that up to 50% of tenant farmers may be excluded from participating in this and future agri schemes if their landlords refuse to cooperate.
Most farm tenancy tenancies made prior to 1st September 1995 are subject to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 which give security of tenure, a good degree of autonomy, the right to a rent review every three years and tenants are entitled to receive compensation at the end of the tenancy for any major improvements they have made.
However, many farm tenants in England and Wales now rent under what are known as Farm Business Tenancies (FBTs), which are characterised by reduced security: they tend to have very short lengths of term and many restrictive clauses as far as the tenants are concerned.
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has warned that many will be excluded from new agi schemes and access to developing markets for carbon and biodiversity offsets.
The new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) will see farmers paid for work that enhances the environment, such as tree or hedge planting, river management to mitigate flooding, or creating habitats, so any farmer excluded from the scheme will be at a huge economic disadvantage.
As English and Welsh farms move away from a system that pays farmers for the total amount of land farmed, the scheme will instead pay for these ‘public goods’.
But in many cases, tenants will not be allowed to enter schemes for the improvement of the environment without their landlord’s consent and their leases may restrict them.
Some landlords reserve the right to take the benefit of new schemes for themselves, while others often benefit from private arrangements for carbon and biodiversity offsetting, the TFA says.
George Dunn, TFA chief executive:
“We cannot support a situation where the funding is removed from tenant farmers and is received instead by their landlords.”
“Landlords are entitled to receive rent in return for granting exclusive occupation of their land to active farmers.
“They should not be able to capitalise directly through government schemes and other arrangements.”
Despite lobbying efforts from the TFA, the government has so far decided not to include provisions within the Agriculture Act which would have protected access to new schemes for tenants occupying under Farm Business Tenancies.
“The government must now address these issues through the way it designs schemes to protect access for tenant farmers,” Mr Dunn has says.