The application window for Countryside Stewardship Applications opened on 11th February and our new Farming Minister, George Eustice, has spoken out in support of the scheme identifying it as “a good stepping stone” towards the Government’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which is due to be rolled out by the end of 2024.
However, as we learn more about ELMS and the opportunities it presents, Farmers and Land Owners already in either an Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ELS) or a Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CS) that is due to come to an end this year, are even more uncertain about what their next step should be.
We have seen several clients in the last few weeks who have received offers to extend their existing agreements for another year. There are obvious benefits for renewing; a guaranteed annual payment, the flexibility of only being tied-in for one year, the risk that you will not be accepted on to a new scheme and, of course, avoiding submission fees from those pesky Agricultural Consultants. However, there are still advantages to not accepting an extension.
Mr Eustice has “guaranteed that anyone who joins [ELMS] in the future will be able to leave their CS agreement early in order to do so.” This means that those who are signed up to a CS Agreement (usually a 5 year term) with a 2021 start, but are offered a place in the ELMS pilot or wish to enter the scheme in 2024, will be able to leave their agreements at agreed exit points, without penalty.
Countryside Stewardship also offers farmers remuneration for a range of capital items including fencing, hedge planting, tree planting and even (in eligible areas) concreting. Creating a new application is definitely a good time to review the need for such items around the farm and could save a lot of money on projects that needed doing anyway!
When trying to decide whether to extend or re-apply, it is a good idea to talk to a consultant about what works well with the current agreement, what is a struggle, and what happens at a field level. I met with a client recently who already is adhering to the criteria for a CS option that she does not currently claim for on her existing agreement. By adding this option to a new agreement, she will earn £45 a hectare more than she is currently, for something she was doing already.
There is no doubt that whilst ELMS is certainly looming on the near horizon, Countryside Stewardship still has a great deal going for it, now more than ever as we look towards an increasingly environmentally focused government funding system.
Contact Holly at email@example.com or your local FCG office for advice on deciding what is environmentally best for your business.