The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) differs from Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) in that it’s competitive and you have to pick options that match local priorities, but it can offer high levels of payments. This could help farm cashflows when commodity prices are subdued and subsidy payments are declining. Some options could also bring management benefits, such as helping to achieve cultural control of grass weeds.
Take, for example, a 550-hectare predominantly arable farm business in Essex. Under ELS, the bulk of points came from extended overwintered stubbles, buffer strips including woodland edge management, plus hedgerow and field corner management and small areas of permanent grassland.
We analysed the value of these options under CSS. The points previously scored for the farm environment record and ditch management were removed, and field corner management replaced by flower rich plots. Under CSS, an additional 15ha will also be managed under a two-year sown legume fallow to combat blackgrass, and the shoot gains 2.5ha of additional winter bird food.
Comparing the similar options produces a CSS revenue of £15,900 a year versus £16,500 a year under ELS. But with an additional £9,430 a year for the sown legume fallow and winter bird food options, the scheme is then worth £25,330 a year, exceeding ELS by 54%.
There is, of course, a management cost. But for the 51ha taken out of production (this includes the overwintered stubbles and two-year sown legume fallow, the latter still being able to be cropped for hay or silage), it equates to a £497/ha gross margin on some pretty marginal areas of the farm.
Robert Gazely is an Associate Partner in the Chelmsford office of Strutt & Parker.