Latest measures aimed at accelerating the UK Government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive, a key delivery mechanism of its flagship Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, offer “zero recognition” of the role that organic farming could play in delivering vital sustainability goals.
That’s the conclusion of the organic certification body, Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G).
Last week Defra unveiled fresh details of actions and payments for the ELM scheme, including six new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) standards, along with proposals to “evolve” the Countryside Stewardship (CS) grants initiative.
Responding to the announcement, OF&G CEO, Roger Kerr, said: “Any step Defra takes to reward farmers for their actions to support climate and nature is not only welcomed but absolutely essential in light of the environmental challenges we face. However, it is extraordinary that despite policymakers’ talk of sustainability, biodiversity, climate, resilient food production, water quality and net zero, there is zero recognition of the significant contribution that an organic whole farm system approach already delivers to achieve these goals.
“Instead, the ELM update published today is more of a pick-and-mix approach where organic farmers will be able to choose between SFI options and with organic practices incorporated into a re-packaged Countryside Stewardship scheme options.
“OF&G had previously been optimistic about the development of Countryside Stewardship Plus, but this appears to be a backward step since there is no coordinated support for organic systems – proven to deliver on Defra’s environmental objectives.This glaring omission is detrimental and short-sighted.”
Tinkering at the edges
The Soil Association said the Government was “tinkering around the edges” instead of “investing in the radical changes needed for a resilient and sustainable, agroecological farming sector”.
Its head of farming Policy, Gareth Morgan, said: “Much that is set to be rewarded in this new policy was already part of existing Countryside Stewardship policies, and it remains unclear as to which scheme farmers should choose or how the policies will work together. The new incentives for agroecological and organic farming practices – like avoiding insecticides and using legumes for soil fertility instead of chemicals – are welcome. But information on the promised organic standard or any clarity for our sustainable farming pioneers is still missing. Support for game-changing action like planting more trees on farms is also desperately needed.”