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Paying for ‘results’ in agri-environment schemes - can we meet the needs of both farmers and society?

February the 13th, 2018 - Workmen’s Hall, Blaenafon, Torfaen NP4 9PT

EFNCP Seminar

Why a Welsh seminar on ‘results-based payments’?

Agricultural policy has for some time recognised the importance of delivering multiple policy objectives through the management of the countryside by farmers. In discussions about post-Brexit policy, an increased focus in the support payments system on the delivery of ecosystem services seems to be taken for granted. Getting agri-environment right would therefore seem to be a task of great importance to both farmers and policymakers.

However, anyone who talks to farmers about their experience of recent agri-environment schemes finds a picture of deep dissatisfaction. Yes, schemes are financially-essential; yes, they sometimes fit in well with what is already happening. But they’re also seen as ridiculously rigid - overly-simple and ineffective tools which often fail to deliver improvements in habitats.

Not all of these weaknesses are inherent to prescriptive agri-environmental schemes (ones which reward obedience to pre-set rules) – failures to accommodate gathers for shearing into grazing dates are cannot be put at the door of ‘Brussels’. But having said that, the general weaknesses farmers note chime with the observations of the European Court of Auditors throughout Europe –some agri-environment measures work, but all too many seem to be ineffective.

In traditional prescriptive schemes, farmers are treated as unthinking agents of Government – putting into practice exact instructions. Their skills and experience and their ideas on how policy objectives could best be achieved are at best undervalued. Meanwhile, changing the prescriptions, even when the results have been properly monitored and shown to be disappointing, is time-consuming and administratively-difficult.

These problems are not unique to the Wales or the UK. This was exactly the situation some years ago in the Burren, in Ireland – prescriptions in the national one-size-fits-all agri-environment scheme completely inappropriate for an area of global importance, recently designated an SAC with much ill-feeling. Local farmers thought that things could be done differently and over many years developed a programme which has by now been adapted into the national RDP.

On Dartmoor many farmers on common land were not confident that their existing agri-environment agreements would deliver the ambitions of the detailed Dartmoor Vision which they had previously agreed with Government agencies. Defra and Natural England enabled farmers to design a new approach and then trial this innovative approach on two commons. The scheme is based around a set of outcomes that in turn address a variety of public benefits. Currently the pilot is in its fifth year.

On the Llyn Peninsula and in the Yorkshire Dales, NGOs and agencies worked away to develop similar ideas, taking advantage of grant schemes as they came along to develop the ideas further. And in Ireland, further pilots on the Aran Islands, Shannon Callows and County Leitrim encouraged the Government to call for a number of locally-delivered schemes under the EIP measure – national programmes for the hen harrier and freshwater pearl mussel, and a series of local pilot projects, many of them taking the results-based approach.

Things can be done differently! Results-based payments are not a panacea; they’re not always appropriate; they require some thinking and a lot of developmental support. The ‘good news stories’ we will hear about arose out of real problems and had teething troubles, and we can learn from them. But for the sake of policy objectives and farmers’ self-respect, the results-based approach deserves a serious look.



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This event was funded by the European Union through the CREATE and Cwm a Mynydd and Rural Action Cwm Taf LEADER programmes. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the funders.
Ariennir y gynhadledd gan yr Undeb Ewropeaidd trwy raglenni LEADER CREATE a Cwm a Mynydd a Gweithredu Gwledig Cwm Taf. Ni ellir cymryd yn ganiataol bod y cynnwys yn adlewyrchu barn y noddwr.

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