A digital divide and a lack of trust towards the government means that some farmers are less likely to contribute to sustainable farming practices, according to researchers at the universities of Sheffield and Reading.
The researchers set out to interview farmer welfare charities, facilitation groups and farmer-run networks to try and discover why policymakers find some farmers ‘harder to reach.’
According to the interviews, complex bureaucracy, a lack of trust towards Defra and government agencies and poor internet connections are key issues that prevent farmers from getting involved in the design and delivery of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme which will replace the EU subsides from 2024.
The ELM will pay farmers for environmental services and benefits. The benefits include improved air, water and soil quality, increased biodiversity, climate change mitigation, cultural benefits and better protection of historic environments.
The researchers have warned that failing to engage with farmers risks damaging consequences for the environment and may threaten the viability of farm businesses in some of England’s most iconic landscapes.
The researchers have therefore recommended that the government adopt a simplified scheme design and the creation of non-digital ways for farmers to get involved. They have called on ministers to review implementation timescales regularly and fund farmers with training in agri-environment issues.
Dr Ruth Little, lecturer in human geography at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘The new Environmental Land Management scheme represents a dramatic shift away from the previous support regime, with huge potential to restore nature to health.
‘But for it to keep farms in business after Brexit and improve our environment, farmers must have a say in its design. Defra has made a commitment to co-designing ELM with stakeholders and our research offers insights on how to make these conversations as inclusive as possible.
‘Our findings showed some farmers are forced to drive to the nearest McDonald’s to access decent wifi, and many find the online schemes difficult to engage with. The government should provide IT assistance and invest in rural broadband – not just for our economy, but for the environment too.’
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