Ben Barnett: New farm payments are 'no-brainer' but questions remain

Paying farmers for environmental results on farms is a no-brainer. In theory, everyone benefits, the farmer, the environment and as a result of both of those, the rest of us.

Political understanding to make the case for funding for farming through the best mechanisms possible must not be grasped by new Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers. Picture by Aaron Chown/PA Wire.

While no farmer I’ve spoken to has rubbished the idea, there is apprehension. It has been proposed by government that this new payments model will start to be gradually phased in as soon as 2021 and yet so many questions remain unanswered as to how it will actually work.

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A series of tests and trials to inform the Environmental Land Management Scheme’s design will start imminently – so Defra suggested when quizzed on the topic.

But is the Government really allowing sufficient time to prepare farmers for what the future of farm payments will look like?

We know that the delivery of cleaner water and air will be financially backed, but what is totally lacking at this stage is how the delivery of these ‘public goods’ will be measured and financially rewarded.

There is no clarity either on how much funding the Treasury will commit to supporting agriculture under the new scheme.

Current levels of financial support that match what the country’s farmers receive through the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy are only guaranteed until the end of this Parliament and while that pledge could still last the distance, until 2022, some commentators expect a general election before the year is out.

Theresa Villiers makes first ministerial visit as Anita Rani and Countryfile Live warm up for Castle Howard show dateWhoever leads the country in the longer term, an Environmental Land Management Scheme, if well-designed, can offer a compelling narrative for future substantial funds, given it can deliver clear environmental benefits at a period of monumental climate challenge.

What mustn’t be lost in the mean time is the political understanding to make the case for funding for farming through the best mechanisms possible.

The industry keenly awaits the right signals from the newly installed Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers and returning Farming Minister George Eustice.