A long-term commitment to the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) has been announced by the Scottish Government, with annual rounds of support guaranteed up to and including 2024.
It means farmers. crofters and land managers can apply for support for conversion to and maintenance of organic land, alongside a suite of other measures aimed at promoting low carbon farming and protecting the environment.
The funding, announced by Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon, will support the Scottish Government’s vision of doubling the amount of land under organic management. It will also help farmers to improve the state of vulnerable wildlife and habitats, improve water quality, reduce flood risks, improve soil health and other environmental benefits.
Ms Gougeon said: “This will help to deliver increased biodiversity, improved soils and contribute to mitigating climate change at the same time as providing high quality, locally produced food.
“We have already invested £213 million in the scheme and we are committed to not only delivering a full round in 2022, but to extending the scheme right up to the end of the period of stability.”
The news was welcomed by the farmers’ union, although NFU Scotland vice president Andrew Connon said he would be seeking further clarity, particularly for those farmers who have existing agreements that are about to expire.
He said: “However, the clear commitment to deliver a full AECS round in 2022, and to extending the scheme right up to the end of the period of stability in 2024 will give confidence to Scottish farmers and crofters as they continue to tackle biodiversity and climate change whilst producing high quality, sustainable food.
“A fully-funded AECS is vital in supporting Scottish farmers and crofters to deliver essential environmental benefits including peatland management, conserving and enhancing vulnerable species, and providing habitats for pollinators on farm.
The Soil Association said the support sends a clear signal that growing the organic sector is a priority for the government.
The Soil Association’s head of policy in Scotland, David McKay added: “The AECS payments have also played a vital role over many years in supporting farmers and crofters to take action for nature and climate, contributing to the conservation of many endangered habitats and species.
“The UK Government should match this commitment to expanding organic farming in light of its contribution to nature recovery. So far, clear support for organic production has been absent from the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs) and this must be addressed prior to the full roll-out in 2024.”