Caution over new schemes

Most farmers are enthusiastic about delivering public goods but remain cautious about signing up to schemes like the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Landscape Recovery Schemes.

That is one of the findings of the Future of Farming survey, carried out jointly during the summer by the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) and Strutt & Parker. 

Concerns about payment rates were one of the main barriers when it came to signing up to the Sustainable Farming Incentive and there were also concerns about waiting for more standards to become available or waiting to see if it would be a success. However, only 2 per cent said they were just not interested in the SFI.

The Future of Farming survey also sought to identify how farms and estates are trying to build resilience within their businesses.

Overall, it found that farmers are open to taking steps to improve their environmental management and enhance nature than is sometimes portrayed.

For example, while the number of respondents who have carried out a carbon audit during the past three years was relatively low (23%), 56% are already making plans to reduce the carbon footprint of their business.

But only 40% confirmed they were planning to enter the SFI within the next three years, which is low considering the governments target of getting 70% of farmers signed up by 2028.

However, nearly two-thirds have or intend to sign up to the more established Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

When asked how likely or unlikely they would be to deliver public goods with appropriate schemes and payments in place, 88% said they would take action to protect or improve soil quality.

And the vast majority (82%) said they would be likely or very likely to manage land to increase biodiversity – two key elements of the existing SFI

The public goods that farmers are less enthusiastic about delivering are supporting public access, managing land to reduce flood risk and restoring cultural heritage, although many of these are situation dependent. 

Asked what steps they were taking to improve business resilience, the most popular answers were diversification into non-farming enterprises, benchmarking, accessing professional advice and changing crop rotations or livestock enterprises due to expected climate change.