University of Reading: Parliamentary Report Cites Evidence Of Farmer Marginalisation During Rollout Of Environmental Land Management Scheme

Farmers who risk being marginalised during the UK Government’s Environmental Land Management scheme have had their participation in research heard by lawmakers.

In the report, Environmental Land Management and the Agricultural Transition, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee cite research by academics from the University of Reading and University of Sheffield as they call on the Government to fully assess the impact that the biggest change to agricultural policy in 70 years will have on farm businesses, and to properly support the sector as it navigates the transition.

The analysis of the impact that the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme includes citations from the partnership led by Dr Ruth Little from the Institute of Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield and Dr David Rose from the University of Reading. Their work was mentioned regarding:

How upland farmers may be worst affected by a transition to the proposed ELM scheme;
The dangers of an exit scheme which could lead to smaller farmers further being forced out of the industry;
Why some farmers are harder to reach due to factors including poor rural internet connectivity, lack of trust in Defra, excessive scheme bureaucracy, or a lack of time; and
Ways to ensure that farmers are supported to engage with the ELM scheme through specific knowledge exchange activities to build trust and support the achievement of productivity and the provision of public goods.

Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading said:

“It is encouraging that parliamentarians have taken on board our evidence, and ultimately about farmers concerns over the transition to the Environmental Land Management scheme. For the scheme to be effective, it needs to avoid perverse incentives and unintended consequences that lead to greater damage to our environment and rural economy.

“There is also a troubling impact for marginalised farmers that may further be affected by the new scheme, which may deeply cut economic support for some farmers including upland farmers. We see many rural communities becoming more isolated and facing worsening mental health, and further uncertainty in planning ahead may exacerbate farmers’ mental health and wellbeing problems.”

>>> Read more about research into farmers mental health

The report also cites evidence from Dr Little that highlights the need for Defra to put more emphasis on managing the transition process. She noted that “seven years may seem like a long transition period” but, for agricultural timescales, it is “pretty much the blink of an eye”.

Some farmers may have experienced teething problems in previous agri-environment scheme rollouts and therefore may adopt a more ‘wait-and-see’ attitude until the new environmental land management schemes are running more smoothly before they engage.

Others may struggle to engage with Defra on new agricultural policy due to limited time and resources or poor internet connectivity that limits their ability to keep up to date with policy changes or online engagement activities.

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.

“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.”

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