Deadline approaching for ‘lifeline’ Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier agreement applications

Farmers who are considering applications for the Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier agreement, which could help fill a cashflow hole as BPS payments start to dwindle, and can offer a lifeline to farms hit by Covid-19 crisis and feeling impact of wet autumn and winter, have until July 31 to apply for the grant,

The closing date for farmers planning to apply for schemes starting in 2021 is July 31, the first payments from which are expected to be made in December 2021.

There is no limit on the value of an application if it includes a mix of capital and environmental management options.

With Mid-Tier applications ‘competitive’ and scored, they are not automatically approved, but an agreement is guaranteed for those who apply for any of the four ‘Wildlife Offers’ offering a limited number of management options.

The government has also guaranteed that anyone in a Countryside Stewardship agreement will be able to leave early if they want to join the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) when it’s introduced

Kevin Jay of CLM [pictured]says that entering a Countryside Stewardship scheme Mid-Tier agreement is one of the best ways farmers can lock into a guaranteed income, boost biodiversity and position themselves well for the new subsidy era.

“The money – available both as annual payments for environmental work and grants for capital items – should land in bank accounts at precisely the point farmers are experiencing the first reduction in their BPS payments,” says Mr Jay. “The government has guaranteed Countryside Stewardship funding for five years, so it offers a way to fill some – if not all – of that cashflow hole.”

“The phasing out of BPS between now and 2027 was always going to have a huge impact on farm incomes, even before the coronavirus crisis took its toll on revenues from agricultural enterprises and diversifications,” says Mr Jay, a Farm & Environment Consultant with CLM.

“In our unpredictable world, there is much to be said for locking in to certain payments. These agreements, even if you’ve considered them before and decided they weren’t for you, are worth considering again. Countryside Stewardship could be a game-changer on some farms and estates.

“While the scheme rightfully had its share of bad press for being too complicated and for requiring far too much record-keeping, it’s been simplified and the RPA is slowly getting its act together as regards payments.

“Hard as it is for many businesses to plan for the medium- and long-term when they are fighting for their short-term survival, the next few weeks are a critical window, offering an opportunity to access capital grants for work such as fencing and water troughs, plus annual payments covering everything from grass leys and sown legume fallows to restore soil health and help control blackgrass to restoring wildlife habitats and creating woodlands.

“With many arable farms also feeling the fallout of a wet autumn and winter, Mid-Tier payments could provide a much-needed lifeline.

“You don’t need to enter a whole farm, so there are opportunities with less productive areas, such as field corners, wetter pieces of ground or boundary strips – and you can sign up to as many or as few options as you like.”

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