We have become so embedded in a payment system that has rewarded land size instead of what we do with that land, it is difficult to adapt to the mindset that going forward payments will only be available where land is used to benefit biodiversity and climate. In terms of Countryside Stewardship, those who have previously sat on the fence should seriously consider the scheme this year following Defra’s announcement that payment rates will increase by an average of 30% for new and existing applicants.
Historically, particularly for farms with more productive land, payments rates have not stacked up leading to a poor uptake of the schemes in our area. However, the new increases make it a more attractive proposition which could replenish the reduction in BPS payments. These new rates could also act as a ‘softener’ during the transition into ELMS if you are just used to receiving BPS.
For those reading who I am yet to convince, take the low input permanent grassland option for example. Even for the most intensive farmers, you must farm areas of land that you could exclude from hay or silage making between 15 March and 30 June to recoup £132/ha, a 39% increase from the previous payment of £95/ha. That is quite a significant increase for little change in what many are doing already. The options focused on increasing wildlife populations and the creation and management of grassland habitats can seem daunting if you haven’t got any previous experience of them. However these can form as large or small a part of your application as you desire, so why not use 2022 as your slow transition into ELMS and get paid for the practice.
Whilst you’ve got until July to ponder whether Countryside Stewardship is for you, the Farming Transformation Fund to improve productivity and profitability opened in mid-January. This could be your opportunity to reduce the risk in investing in new capital items, processes and equipment with the maximum grant available being £500,000 per applicant. The main themes are the use of robotic or autonomous equipment and systems to aid crop and livestock production or the installation of slurry acidification equipment. However, the clock is ticking on this grant as there are only 8 weeks available to participate in the eligibility tests.
It may seem a rather dull task to complete, but setting some time aside to review the risks your business faces over the next five years could open up some inspired thoughts for change. Those changes should happen now, by working with the Government as a partner in encouraging regenerative agriculture. If you require any help with this process or with applying for one of the grants mentioned above don’t hesitate to contact myself or any of the Barbers Rural team.