Alliance of NGOs and farmers call on Defra to include whole farm systems in ELMs

22nd February 2021

In a new publication [1] the Sustain alliance calls on Defra to support organic, pasture-fed and agroforestry farming systems in the much anticipated Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Current plans have excluded them and Sustain members fear that farmers could miss out on being rewarded for aiming high in delivering public goods.

ELM and the idea of ‘public money for public goods’ is one of Defra’s flagship policies, and is front and centre of the Agriculture Act 2020 [2]. Sustain supports this approach and wants all farmers to be able to access the new support schemes. However, by not including the high standard farming approaches in the ELM pilots and the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme, Defra could struggle to deliver on its aspirations.

The Sustain alliance suggests that there is a groundswell of farmers wanting to transition to these whole farm system approaches, and ELM could be a crucial vehicle to enable that shift.


OASIS - organic advice & information

OF&G has seen an 85% rise in organic certification enquiries, though some farmers are putting plans on hold due to uncertainty around whether government will support and include organic in future farming policy.

The Soil Association recently published a study which shows that demand for organic vegetables, and meat and fish, has risen by 15% and 17% respectively, in 2020.

In the year of COP26 and under the goals of the 25-Year Environment Plan, Sustain says that Defra must support these ways of farming and land management.


Major Benefits

The new co-authored paper highlights the major benefits of including these agroecological whole farm systems in the SFI and other ELM schemes.

Through the synergies gained from a whole systems approach, agroecological farmers and land managers can deliver on a wider range of public goods.

This is achieved through placing a focus on regenerating natural capital, enhancing ecosystem services and diversification.


We recommend the inclusion of the following:

  • An organic land management standard
  • A pasture-fed land management standard
  • An agroforestry land management standard
  • An organic, pasture-fed and horticulture pilot in the National Pilot starting in 2021


Vicki Hird, Head of Farming at Sustain said “This is absolutely not the time for Government to neglect whole farm schemes like organic and fully pasture based farm systems which are clearly going to help tackle climate impacts and protect soils, water and nature.

As Defra pilots the new Environmental Land Management schemes it is imperative they include an organic pilot and measures that encourage adoption of such integrated agroecological and well accredited approaches.”

Fidelity Weston, Vice Chair of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association said “We do hope that Defra will see that supporting existing whole farm systems and encouraging others to join them will ensure a swift and smooth delivery of their ambitions under the 25-Year Environment Plan. These are based on huge experience and evidence which shows biodiversity, ecological and carbon reduction benefits across the whole farm.

By encouraging others to sign up to such schemes they are buying into a proven business based system, supported by considerable farmer to farmer support and learning, enabling easier adoption by new entrants and audit schemes ready to ensure outcomes are delivered.

Roger Kerr, Chief Executive of Organic Farmers & Growers said “It is critically important that the benefits of whole farm systems are recognised by government if their ambitious plans for climate change and nature recovery are to be fulfilled. Fundamentally, we need to recognise the interrelationship between farming and nature. Acknowledging the proven benefits of organic, pasture-fed and agroforestry systems and providing the necessary support, government will pave the way for those farmers who see this as an opportunity to develop their business in this way.”

This publication was co-written by 6 and supported by 18 farming and food organisations [3].


The full publication can be downloaded here