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One area which is likely to become more important for agricultural businesses is the environment through a combination of Countryside Stewardship Schemes (CSS) and the likely introduction of Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), which seems likely to replace, over time, most or all of the current Basic Payment Scheme. They should not be ignored as they create not only a way of replacing lost subsidies but also of improving the countryside asset for future generations.

Stewardship has received a bad press recently; payments have been delayed and applications processed slowly. However, statements of intent regarding payments and processing from DEFRA appear to be bearing fruit and the situation is improving. Application numbers continuing to be low and the likelihood of being accepted is high. Scheme objectives suggest that between 3% and 5% of arable land is entered, with 1% used for nectar-based options, 2% used for winter bird food options. Unlike ELS, you get paid for what you do and can enter as much land as you want to. Most businesses, if they carry out an honest appraisal of their holding, can identify areas that are difficult to farm. The payments for some of these options are such that they will often yield a higher income than traditional cropping on these poorer areas, for example a 250ha arable farm using just two options could earn £6085, from 3% of land (5ha of Wild-bird food at £640/ha, with a supplement of £316/ha for winter feeding giving £956/ha, which totals £4780, and 2.5ha of two year sown, legume fallow at £522/ha, a rotational option providing pollen & nectar, with prescriptions designed to aid blackgrass control gives £1305) Grassland farms have more limited options to choose from, than arable businesses, but the variety of capital works can still make the scheme attractive and many rotational options can be used on temporary grass.

The new Schemes require a greater focus on professional management than in the past and options should be managed like a crop. Inspections are increasingly focused on management as well as appraising quantity of options. Natural England are good at issuing derogations when required, but there is still a requirement to make a genuine attempt to manage the options well and to record activities. It is strongly recommended that businesses have regular ‘health checks’ to ensure that records are being kept at an adequate level. Businesses using these services have found the inspection process much easier, which can reduce the risk of financial penalty should things not go according to plan. A “Health Check” in the second to last year helps ensure a final year inspection should go smoothly.

Streamlined application processes have been introduced, based around sector specific packages, however these can exclude options that may add value to a scheme such as winter cover crops or management of traditional farm buildings. Businesses considering applying should be aware the main application window for 2019 is open until July 31st, BUT packs needing to be ordered by May 31st.

For more information contact your local Brown & Co office or the author Tom Bridge – Brown & Co 01476 591991 or