ELM’s or Environmental Land Management schemes is the flagship for the government’s agricultural transition away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This is a move away from subsidies, to “pay farmers and land managers to provide environmental goods and services alongside food production”. Lets explore what it could mean for agritech.
ELM’s is made up of three schemes:
· Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) – Paying farmers for sustainable farming practices that protect and enhance natural environment while supporting farm productivity
· Countryside Stewardship Plus – more targeted actions relating to specific habitats that can be managed alongside food production
· Landscape Recovery - bespoke, longer-term, larger scale projects to enhance the natural environment
Some of the themes picked out from this update of ELM’s is: soil health, reducing the use of inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, rewilding projects, climate change adaption and helping out nature such as flood management, peatland restoration and enhancing woodland. Essentially the government are paying farmers to farm environmentally and help them meet the NetZero 2050 goals. Different land uses and ecosystems have different emphasis but we'll be focusing on arable and grassland.
Lets look at improving soil health, primarily through reducing chemical impacts and instead using “sustainable crop pest, weed and disease management”. This has huge opportunities for agritech in robotic weeding as well as pest and disease identification and control capabilities to reduce or completely cut out use of pesticides and herbicides . This would involve the development of the robotic machinery as well as the AI learning abilities to identify and make decisions around certain factors, weeds, insects etc. The ability to use robotics to eliminate pests and disease could dramatically reduce the reliance on chemicals. This technology is also much more precise than blanket spraying, increasing the diversity of non-target plants and animals, another pay point in the schemes. But it doesn't need to be robotics, research into genomics to target weeds and pests with trap crops and pheromones has huge potential.
Other nutrient management technologies could involve application in precision farming to encourage efficient use of chemicals and other resources. GIS mapping of land can pinpoint exactly which areas require fertilisers, herbicides etc. in order to reduce their use and chance of run off. The ability to provide data on land and crop requirements can improve efficiency and cost saving as well as contribute towards ELM's aims.
With all these new categories what isn't clear is how farmers are going to prove their conformance and how the government will verify this conformance. The ability to record baselines and improvements could be invaluable. Self-assessment of these different actions could also be useful to support farmers in getting the most out of the schemes while assessing the appropriateness of their land. Take soil health as an example:
SFI arable and horticultural soils standard pays for:
· completing a soil assessment and producing a soil management plan
· testing soil organic matter
· adding organic matter
· having green cover (cover crops) on at least 70% of the land in the standard over winter (with the 70% including 20% multi-species cover crops at the intermediate level)
Currently measurements of soil health such as organic matter and carbon are still done by sending samples to the lab, or other snapshot tests; being able to provide a large scale certification system which bypasses the need for expensive and lengthy soil assessments could be very useful.
This is a very small selection of the possible opportunities for agritech with the introduction of ELM's. The mean's and measures to reduce agricultures climate and environmental impacts as well as products that ease the transition into this post EU funding provides agritech the opportunity to expand into a growing market.
If you need help applying the new SFI and Countryside Stewardship Plus standards to your own land, contact the NIAB Future Farming Resilience Fund team for free advice, assessments, and implementation plans.
If you have an agritech idea that could help farmers meet their ELM's commitments get in contact with us, we could help your idea get off the ground.