If you meet someone who says they know how the use of land for agriculture is going to change in the coming years, take a very large pinch of salt and throw it over your shoulder. Direct payments to landowners are dwindling away, with reductions to zero. There are differences among different land uses, but for grass that supports farm animal production, a rough guide is that payment of £1,000 is received for every 10 acres. So, 100 acres puts £10,000 in someone’s purse each year and 500 acres, £50,000. These payments have not been linked to farming; they only relate to the land.
The lay of the land
Now, any future funding will relate to “improvements that are valued by the public” (Defra et al., 2022). Recently a leaflet arrived on farms’ doormats, and potential actions to adopt and make a success of the new direction will be considered. Following consultation, the new food strategy“ includes plans to support farmers to boost home-grown fruit and vegetable production and encourage people to buy more locally sourced, high welfare food”.
“We are phasing out subsidies so that we can invest the money in farm productivity, the environment, and animal health and welfare” (Defra et al., 2022)
The outline continues, “If we want farming and food production to be resilient and sustainable over the long term, then farming and nature can and must go hand in hand.” Furthermore, “This means producing policies that work for farm businesses, food production and the environment.” The paragraph of most direct relevance to veterinary practices, however, is likely to be: “We are phasing out subsidies so that we can invest the money in farm productivity, the environment, and animal health and welfare” (Defra et al., 2022).
Farmers can now apply for one-off grants for “things that the public and consumers care about, but which can only be delivered by farmers”. These “things” include helping farmers improve farm productivity and trying out and adopting innovative technology and practices as well as new means to improve the climate, environment, and animal health and welfare.
The grant process will require detailed understanding, but with productivity as the aim, this is embraced by the Farming Investment Fund, with grants of £2,000 to £25,000 from the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund. It also includes slurry storage and capital items (from £25,000 to £500,000) through the Farming Transformation Fund and new methods and technologies through the Farming Innovation Programme. The previous administration stated that policies and services will be more effective, flexible and accessible and that the way farmers access funding and advice will be “much more straightforward and dependable”. It is assumed that the current administration will also look to have effective and straightforward application approaches.
The impact of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway
In October 2022 at the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) Congress, there will be presentations and discussions about the details of the annual health and welfare review for livestock, a part of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway. Each livestock unit is to receive a veterinary visit funded by the Pathway. It will be interesting to see how these visits are to be managed and how the outcomes are to be assessed, but it is anticipated that lots of planning and work by veterinary practices will be involved. However, these visits are only the first step for many farmers. Following will be animal health and welfare capital grants, disease eradication and control programmes and payment by results. In the past, there has been considerable discussion among veterinary surgeons about the ways and means of engaging clients with various health initiatives. With financial incentives on the table, the job may be easier.
In the past, there has been considerable discussion among veterinary surgeons about the ways and means of engaging clients with various health initiatives. With financial incentives on the table, the job may be easier
The input from veterinary surgeons is indicated to be of high importance, and assessing how clients improve animal welfare on-farm will be part of the payment by results programme. In 2023, it is anticipated that veterinary surgeons will engage with a pilot of the Health and Welfare Pathway, with “fullscale” offers to farmers commencing in 2025. As the literature indicates, this is a long-term programme with tangible and sustainable results. It is not too difficult to see that fully engaging with the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway could be a major financial input for veterinary practices in the long term. Some effort will be required to understand the local opportunities, but practices are already identifying a lead vet to assimilate the details.
Cattle and sheep sectors
To provide some guidance, a list of priorities for improving animal health and welfare for cattle includes bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), lameness, mastitis, ventilation, cow comfort, loafing areas and enrichment, pain management, shelter, drainage, gateways and tracks. The potential for improved handling facilities for tuberculosis (TB) is of particular relevance to veterinary practice.
It is expected that the annual review by a veterinary surgeon will involve diagnostic testing, veterinary advice, vaccination and improvements to on-farm management or active management planning
There are also likely to be other priorities for specific clients. In fact, the guidance for the sheep sector includes health screening for endemic disease, internal and external parasites, mastitis, abortion, lameness, ewe sustainability and pain management. It is expected that the annual review by a veterinary surgeon will involve diagnostic testing, veterinary advice, vaccination and improvements to on-farm management or active management planning. Clearly, these aims will not be met in a single visit and ongoing support by telephone is indicated, but these details will, no doubt, form upcoming discussions.
The rise in development of farmland
There is another factor changing the appraisal of land in the countryside. It is difficult to estimate the exact scale, but many acres are held by people who had active farms but now have units that are too small for livestock production on their own. The land has been rented out to larger neighbours, and with the loss of direct payments this land will yield very little.
“Farmer developers” are buying up small fields from low-activity farms, erecting a barn and looking to benefit from a “shortage of housing in rural areas”
Furthermore, since 2013, redundant barns have been converted by right under permitted development into housing. Since 2015, a farmer has the right to erect an agricultural building of up to 1,000 square metres, which the local planning authority cannot refuse but may have a view on siting, design and external appearance. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is now supporting that concession that these barns can be converted into housing after a period of 10 years. The size indicated by this is big. One such barn being erected locally is 90 feet by 60 feet with 25 feet to the eaves. Pace that out in your garden, and you will get some idea how that footprint may convert into housing.
Defining a farmer has become a difficult exercise, with indications of 10 acres, but the local authority only has 28 days to respond, and most “prior notifications” are going through “on the nod”. “Farmer developers” are buying https://canadianpharmacy365.net/ up small fields from low-activity farms, erecting a barn and looking to benefit from a “shortage of housing in rural areas”.
For veterinary practices, there are opportunities for good work in the coming years, but there will be a need to recognise how land use is changing. It may be that some commercial farms will reduce stocking numbers and go for the environmental support becoming available.