farmer teaching children how to calculate wheat yield children look at cows in a field

Environmental Land Management and the future of farm payments

In 2020 the first major UK legislation on agriculture in 50 years was introduced into law. The Agriculture Act provides a range of powers for the government to implement new approaches to farm payments and land management.

Future payments are being rolled out under the heading of Environmental Land Management (ELM). Between 2021 - 2028 Defra is phasing out the old Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) - which paid farmers for the total amount of land farmed - and introducing ELM.  

The new Act means in England farmers will be paid to produce 'public goods' such as environmental or animal welfare improvements. 


ELM is made up of three main schemes:  

1/ Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI) - a universal scheme open to all farmers. It supports actions such as improving soil health and water quality, enhancing hedgerows, and promoting integrated pest management.  

Defra says it aims “to make it [SFI] attractive and straightforward for everyone to take part, including the many farmers who are not currently in an Agri-environment scheme.”  

Within each standard, there are three levels for participants to choose from – introductory, intermediate, and advanced – each is more challenging and rewarding than the previous level.  

One of the most crucial elements of SFI is incentivising farmers to enhance the natural health and fertility of our soils. Defra believes doing so will not only make farming more profitable and sustainable but will also contribute to our efforts to reach Net Zero.  

By 2028, Defra aims for SFI soil standards to cover 50% to 70% of eligible agricultural soil in England and say this could save approximately 330 to 460 thousand tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2028.  


The Country Trust is campaigning for Educational Access payments to be recognised as a public good and to be included in SFI. You can support our campaign by writing to your MP. Click here to download a template letter.


2/ Countryside Stewardship - January 2024 sees the start of the last 5-year Countryside Stewardship agreements. Countryside Stewardship Plus (formerly known as Local Nature Recovery) – will replace Countryside Stewardship and will focus on ‘building back nature’ into and beyond our farmed landscape. At the time of writing, Defra plans to include Educational Access Payments in Countryside Stewardship Plus.  

An 'early version of the scheme' is to a 'limited number of people in 2023' as part of testing and rolling out the scheme. The scheme is due to be rolled out to the whole country by the end of 2024.  


Join the nation and connect with soil. Plant Your Pants invites everyone to join us to explore the unknown world beneath our feet.


3/ Landscape Recovery (LR) will support more fundamental changes to land use to significantly enhance the landscape, restore wilder landscapes, and enable us to meet our targets and commitments made in the Environment Improvement Plan (EIP) and 25-Year Environment Plan.  

Defra has confirmed that farmers can be part of more than one Agri- environment scheme but must not be paid for the same intervention twice through different schemes (e.g., existing environmental agreements and an ELM scheme).  

Defra says that future schemes play a “crucial role” in tackling climate change, through reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon storage.  


Farming in Protected Landscapes

In addition to ELMs funding is currently available through the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme (FIPL). FIPL provides funding to farmers and land managers in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), National Parks and the Broads. (It is not an Agri-environment scheme. ) FIPL runs from July 2021 to March 2024 and is open to all farmers and land managers within an AONB or National Park in England, or the Broads. This includes farmers and land managers from the public, private and charity sector.  


Farmer Survey 2023 - The Headlines