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NPA calls for pig sector's environmental contribution to be recognised in new ELM scheme

31st Jul 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA is calling for pig production to have a more formal and recognised role in the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

Dingley Dell

In the NPA’s submission to Defra’s consultation on the new scheme, which is due to be fully rolled out in 2024, following various pilots, Ed Barker points out that pig farms have, in the past, struggled to access any of the previous environmental stewardship schemes due to administrative difficulties.

The multiannual nature of the schemes has meant they have often excluded many outdoor pig farmers, who are not owner-occupiers and are generally not in control of the land for the full term of the agreement, even though they are actively contributing to enriching the environment and providing wildlife habitats.

In addition to this, outdoor pigs themselves have to be rotational, which only adds to the difficulties of establishing more permanent environmental options to fit a scheme.

“The new ELM scheme is a chance to design a new regime that can harness and encourage environmental outcomes that pig farms can deliver. With clear benefits to soil structure, water quality and a range of biodiversity outcomes, we see this as a once in a generation chance to finally recognise the role of pig production and incentivise best outcomes for our environment,” the NPA response states.

Where there are more pig-friendly options in place under ELM, it will act as an incentive to landowners who may have pigs as part of a rotation to include them within the whole farm approach to their scheme.

Outcome-based approach

“Ideally, where pig producers are delivering the outcomes, they should be adequately compensated for that,” the documents adds. “Pig producers are keen to contribute and support habitats/resource protection and it would be great to see existing effort recognised and better channelled in the future.”

The NPA submission cites the Dingley Dell ‘million bees project’ (pictured) as an example of how outdoor pigs are excellent for accommodating ground nesting birds and allowing a range of pollen and nectar mixes.

“There are countless more pig producers undertaking environmental work voluntarily or around existing schemes. This is a great opportunity to capture this work, reward it, and promote further to pig producers around the country,” the submission adds.

There are a number of options suggested in Tier One, which could be met by pig producers, such as pollinator or grassland options, but a barrier is that where there are very specific drilling dates and ‘set down’ imposed on certain options these do not fit in with the outdoor pig rotations.

The submission suggest this could be overcome with a move to more ‘outcomes-based options’. It also calls for a more flexible approach to options like buffer strips to reflect the fact that pigs will predominantly move on a three-year basis, for example, bespoke buffering options to follow the pigs as they rotate around a farm or estate.

Devil in the detail

While there is undoubted for pig producers in ELM, the NPA stresses that, as with previous schemes, ‘the devil is always in the detail’. Only by working through the practical administration of the scheme do you really learn if it is meeting core objectives.

The submission therefore calls for significant trialling to enable any necessary revisions to be made before full roll out.

Noting that with BPS and CSS roll outs, the electronic and administrative implementation was ‘arguably more complicated than setting the scheme design itself, the submission also calls for ‘lean and flexible’ administration.