Signing up to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme could help farmers bridge what looks to be the inevitable funding gap which will open up when basic payments start to fall in 2021, but before the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is widely available in 2024-25.
Given that the money to fund ELMS will only be released in steps, as Basic Payments are phased out over the transition period, it seems likely that there will be restrictions on the numbers able to join the new scheme in the early years.
The government’s own timetable suggests that ELMS pilots should start in 2020, but it may not be fully up and running until 2025 – halfway through the timetable for the phasing out of direct payments.
Claire Noble, assistant land agent in the Morpeth Office of Strutt & Parker, said: “Countryside Stewardship has had its issues over recent years, but farmers should not rule it out without considering how it might benefit their business.
“Farmers are being told that BPS payments will be phased out from 2021 and, at this stage, it looks likely that it may be three or four years after this date before ELMS is widely available. So CSS could provide a useful income stream as farmers navigate the change from direct support to payments for the provision of public goods.
“Some people may be thinking it is better to wait and see what the new scheme looks like. However, the government has given assurances that if any future scheme is better than the mid-tier scheme then there will be the option to switch.
“Farmers can choose to make a full mid-tier application which gives them maximum flexibility in terms of the options from which they can choose. Alternatively, they can apply for one of four streamlined ‘wildlife offers’, where the management options on offer are far more limited, but the application process is simpler.”
The 2019 application period for CSS is due to open on 18 February.
The deadline for requesting applications packs for the mid-tier scheme is 31 May, with an application deadline of 31 July.
“In addition to a wide range of land management options, capital grants of up to £10,000 are also on offer for a range of work that will contribute to efforts to raise water quality,” said Miss Noble.
“This includes concrete yard renewal, roofing for silage and muck heaps, watercourse crossings and hard bases for livestock drinkers and feeders.
Hedgerows and boundaries grant
Farmers also have a ten-week window in which to apply for funding to pay for the restoration of hedges and stone walls under the 2019 Hedgerows and Boundaries Grant Scheme.
The scheme is also due to open for applications on 18 February with a closing date of 3 May.
“The hedgerow and boundaries grant scheme is a useful opportunity for farmers to make improvements that help from a farm management perspective, while also offering landscape and environmental benefits.”