The Brexit referendum in June 2016 triggered a wholesale change, including in the way that Britain sees itself as a country, as well as practical ‘differences’ in the way we live and work. Change in farming and environmental policy was one of these intended changes and over the past five years Defra has worked to create a new framework, putting environmental land management at the heart of new policy. However, as has been documented in the media and on other blogs, the new schemes have had a low level of interest for uptake.
I would argue that lack of clarity, indeed wholescale uncertainty lies at the heart of this low level of interest. As a farmer said to me the other day, there is confusion on the ground as to what it is that Defra really wants. Is it food production? Is it rewilding? Is it tree planting? Is it regenerative agriculture? We cannot be all things to all people.
The term ‘evolution not revolution’ has rung throughout the process of change at Defra and I personally believe that this was a good thing – for a good amount of time. However, what is required now is certainty of options. We need to know payment rates and management requirements of schemes. Only when that is known can farmers and landowners make decisions as to where they go with their business. If this doesn’t happen soon then you will either see more businesses turning towards increased intensification, or you will see businesses failing. I urge Defra to get their message out early next year, ideally at the Oxford Farming Conference, but by February at the latest.