This week I helped facilitate a breakout session at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s international conference on ecological networks. The discussion was about how to “build natural capital in agricultural ecosystems”, and was very relevant to our work on designing the new SRDP.
One point that was raised was whether payments for agri-environment schemes should be calculated on a different basis. At present they’re based on compensating the farmer for the extra costs incurred, and any income foregone, as a result of participating in the scheme. The comment was made that instead the payment should be calculated on the basis of how much society values the environmental benefit being delivered.
Unfortunately the problem is international trade rules. For agri-environment schemes to count under the World Trade Organisation’s “Green Box”, which means in effect they’re exempt from any restrictions imposed by the WTO, the payments have to be calculated on the current basis.
But another issue that came out very strongly was that, apart from the payment levels, it’s important to have some sources of advice for farmers, to help them look at what they might do and how it might benefit the environment whilst fitting in with the farming system. This chimes completely with the strong support for advice which emerged during our intensive stakeholder groups last year.
Later this year we’ll be running a public consultation on the new SRDP, when we’ll aim to turn these broad ideas into something a bit more concrete.