Agriculture: Soil

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered at on 25 October 2023.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether her Department is taking steps to help reduce the transition costs for farmers moving to regenerative agricultural methods.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment her Department has made of the effectiveness of regenerative agriculture on achieving the Government's climate goals while increasing UK food security; and whether her Department is taking steps to increase the adoption of regenerative farming practices.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Farming in England is going through the biggest change in a generation. We have listened to the needs of farmers and our approach to working with the farming sector is also changing. We are improving our policies and services to make them more effective, fair, flexible, accessible, and workable for farmers.

Environmental land management is the foundation of our new approach. Our new schemes will pay for sustainable farming practices (such as reducing carbon emissions, creating, and preserving habitat, and making landscape-scale environmental changes) and improvements to animal health and welfare. This is an important step towards achieving important environmental outcomes such as net zero, climate change adaptation, biodiversity, and water quality.

In late June 2022, we launched the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). SFI pays farmers for actions that support food production and can help improve farm productivity and resilience, whilst also protecting and improving the environment.

The SFI scheme contains standards that can support a regenerative approach and are designed so that there are options available for all types of farmers. The standards include:

• hedgerows standard

• integrated pest management standard

• nutrient management standard

• arable and horticultural land standard

• improved grassland standard

• low input grassland standard

We are rolling out the SFI2023 in a controlled way, making sure we offer everyone the right level of support. We invited Basic Payment Scheme eligible farmers to register interest for SFI2023 with the Rural Payments Agency from 30 August 2023. Over 14,000 farmers have done so, representing one in six. This process is already being simplified, with the majority of farmers no longer needing to registrations of interest as of the week commencing 16 October 2023. We started to accept applications from 18 September, and I am pleased to confirm the first payments were made on 17 October 2023.

The Landscape Recovery scheme also supports a regenerative approach to agriculture. It focusses on restoring nature across a wider landscape, bringing together landowners and managers who want to take a more large-scale, long-term approach to producing environmental and climate goods on their land. Round two pilot applications opened on 18 May 2023 and closed on 21 September 2023. Applications were open to any individuals or groups who want to come together on projects of over 500 hectares and public bodies will need to apply in collaboration with other land managers – for example, with neighbouring landowners, farmers, and tenants. Projects involving elements of regenerative farming could apply.

Our Countryside Stewardship scheme includes actions that can form part of a regenerative or restorative farming approach; to improve soil quality, enhance biodiversity, decrease water pollution, and restore, create, and manage habitats.

We are offering farmers and land managers, including those who take a regenerative approach, funding for equipment, technology, and infrastructure that improves farm productivity and benefits the environment through the Farming Investment Fund. This offers funding for equipment, technology, and infrastructure that improves farm productivity and benefits the environment. This fund provides grants to farmers, foresters, and growers (including contractors to these sectors) so that they can invest in the things they need to improve productivity and enhance the natural environment.

We are also offering support to drive adoption of new innovation by farmers and growers. The Farming Innovation Programme encourages groups of farmers, growers, businesses, and researchers to get involved in collaborative research and development. We believe that by working together, they will be able to solve challenges and exploit opportunities for increasing productivity and environmental sustainability in the agricultural and horticultural sectors in England. Farmers testing out regenerative approaches to agriculture will be able to apply for these grants.

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