New scheme will pay farmers to grow food for local market

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A NEW rural support scheme next year will encourage farmers to grow food for the local market – and pay them for it.

The government initiative also aims to boost organic practices in the agricultural industry and increase the use of soil-regenerating cover crops.

The Rural Support Scheme introduces ‘credits’ for farmers for the first time, which rewards them for providing a ‘public good’, such as minimising waste, creating conservation areas and managing hedgerows.

The RSS aims to encourage practices that improve food security, benefit the environment and incentivise new people to take up farming.

Details of the scheme were recently announced at this year’s Jersey Farming Conference. Funding for farmers next year has risen to £3.17 million, with Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel already saying he will fight for more funding in future.

John Vautier, a former farmer who is now sector lead for Rural and Marine at the Economy Department, said: ‘We want to encourage activity and reward it when it happens.

‘For too long we have spoken about the reward and the concept of public money for public goods, but we have come up short when delivering that.’

The government’s agriculture budget last year was just under £2.5m and the year before it was around £1.5m.

‘We have turned a corner but we have further to go,’ said Mr Vautier.

Addressing the challenges facing the industry, he added: ‘We have reached a crisis point where something will have to change, or we will get more empty shelves, and, from a Jersey perspective, farming will not exist.

‘We have lost 50% of our farming businesses in the last ten years. Go ten years forward and that could mean there would be no farmers in Jersey.

‘Personally, I think that would be a disaster for the Island, so government has a role to play to ensure that does not happen.’

The new scheme will be broken into three tiers: the first rewarding credits for farmers reaching accredited standards such as Red Tractor and LEAF, the second based on what is produced, and the third based on support for ‘integrated farm management’, staff training, landscape management and investment projects.

The second tier, which replaces the ‘single-area payment’ and ‘quality-milk payment’, will offer more credits for growing local crops than it does for export crops.

In 2021, the government supported agriculture to the tune of £24 per Islander. This compares to £96 per capita in the UK, £159 in the EU and £128 in the Isle of Man.

Mr Vautier said: ‘We benefit from the UK and EU supporting agriculture, but we are not doing the same thing ourselves.

‘There is a serious moral question in terms of how we operate as a society, if we expect other people to provide our cheaper food and we’re not making equivalent contributions.’

Mr Vautier said that the more targeted credit allocation of the RSS meant that the government had greater influence over outcomes, such as promoting lower-carbon forms of farming and more sustainable land management.

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