Farmers that use land to protect the environment have more stable incomes than those that focus on intensity

Helena Horton
·2 min read
This is good news for the new environment-led payments scheme championed by the UK government  - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
This is good news for the new environment-led payments scheme championed by the UK government - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Farmers reliant on EU subsidies cared for the environment less, a new study has suggested.

The farms which reduced pesticides and cared for more diverse crops and livestock also enjoyed a more stable income, a report from Rothampsted Research and Reading and Newcastle Universities has found.

Scientists have hailed this as an encouraging sign that the new Environmental Land Management Scheme from the government, which will replace the EU subsidies, will cause farmers to thrive. Researchers said the growers did better when they looked after their land because their farms were more resilient to extreme weather events and disease.

The researchers examined data from the government's Farm Business Survey for 2333 farms in England and Wales, between 2007-2015, for a range of different farm types.

Using statistical models, the team examined the effect of farming practices and subsidies on the stability of farm income, and their relative importance over the nine-year period.

An increase in direct EU subsidies paid to farmers based on the area farmed is associated with a relatively large decrease in the stability of farm income, ranging from 6 to 35 per cent across most farm types. Reducing the intensity of inputs is found to be an important factor increasing the stability of income for all farm types; on average reducing the intensity of inputs reduces variability of income by 20 per cent.

Dr Jake Bishop, Lecturer in Crop Science and Production from the University of Reading’s School of Agriculture, Policy & Development said: “Our latest research is interesting as it shows that farms that were adopting environmental management actually benefitted financially from their stewardship. This is encouraging news for farmers as the UK moves to the Environmental Land Management scheme.

“Diversifying outputs and more efficient use of agrochemicals is also associated with environmental and ecological benefits, including for soils and pollinators, these benefits may have translated into more stable farm incomes over the nine years we examined.”

Lead author and PhD student, Caroline Harkness added: “Farmers are facing increasing pressures due to changes in climate, government policy and prices. Instability in farm income can be a real challenge. It was interesting, and encouraging, to find that farms adopting environmentally friendly practices also had more stable incomes.

“Farmers may be benefiting financially from their environmental management, while in contrast an increase in direct payments per hectare was associated with less stable farm income.

“Environmentally friendly farming practices including engaging in agri-environment schemes, diversifying outputs, and reducing the use of chemical inputs such as fertiliser and pesticides, are associated with ecological and environmental benefits and importantly could also increase the stability of farm income.”