Land and property specialists Strutt & Parker has some top tips for farmers considering making an application for the mid-tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
“Farmers still have enough time to make an application for mid-tier Countryside Stewardship for an agreement with a 1 January 2021 start date,” says Strutt & Parker farm consultant Helen Gosling.
“Requests for an online application pack must be made by 30 June, with the deadline for applications to be submitted being 31 July.”
Here are some top tips from Strutt & Parker if considering an application:
· The government has confirmed that anyone who enters into a new CSS agreement from 2021 will be able to exit at agreed points without penalty if they are being financially disadvantaged in comparison to the Environmental Land Management System (ELMS), so there should be no disadvantage to going into a scheme now.
· All land on an application must be registered with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and it must not be included within an existing scheme agreement. However, any new scheme does not have to include the entire landholding, so any land not included in an existing agreement can be the subject of a new, separate agreement.
· Use the RPA website to help decide which priority options are best suited to your farm and geographic location. The mid-tier scheme is competitive so you do need to put together an application that offers value for money. Choosing the options which are best suited to your farm will help your application when it is scored and means you are more likely to secure an agreement.
· When planning your choice of options, it is important to consider that there can no longer be an overlap between CSS options and the Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) needed to support a BPS claim, with the exception of hedgerows which can be included in both schemes.
· Be realistic. If putting in for a wide range of options make sure you are confident you will be able to keep on top of all the management prescriptions, such as cutting dates. If you don’t, you will lose control of when operations need to take place and penalties could arise from any breaches.
· If including options as an alternative to break crops, such as AB15 (a two-year sown legume fallow) it is a good idea to plan your arable rotation for the full five years of the agreement. This will enable you to make sure you are happy that it fits into your farming system and work out whether there will be times during the year where your workload will change as a result. If taking a significant area of cereals out of the rotation it may also open up opportunities to use grain stores and other buildings for alternative uses.
· Benchmarking your current crop performance can be a good starting point for pulling together a CSS application. It enables you to identify whether there are crops in your rotation that are consistently underperforming or are high risk/low return which could be replaced with a CSS option that provides a more reliable income.
The benefits of a mid-tier CSS agreement include locking into a guaranteed income stream for the next five years, before Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) support starts to be phased out next year.
This should help to reduce the funding gap that will inevitably open up in farm business cashflow given ELMS is not scheduled to be rolled out nationally until the end of 2024.