Last summer, our colleague and Kings technical advisor, Charlotte Holliday, wrote a blog about the changes to greening rules and what it would all mean post-2020 (you can read it here). At the time of publication the 'stepping stone' subsidy scheme - which we now know to be the Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI) - had only just been announced, and there were still many questions and unknowns.
With 2021 now underway, we are officially at the beginning of the end of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) era. The transition to the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme has started, and we're sure that many of you are wondering what this move is going to entail.
"The Path to Sustainable Farming"
In November of last year, DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) unveiled its roadmap to the new ELM scheme and it comprises some of the most significant changes to farming support and land management that we've seen in 50 years. You can read more about the plan in its "Farming is changing" document.
From this year onwards the BPS scheme will be gradually phased out, with the money released being used to fund new grants and schemes. One aspect of this is that farmers will be required to identify marginal land that's been carried on the back of BPS – so to speak – and use the new stewardship schemes to establish grass, flower-rich and wild bird seed margins.
It sounds very 'black and white' when positioned like this, doesn't it? However, there are a number of 'stages' to this rollout which essentially form a bit of a timeline for us to follow:
What is going to happen and when?
Here's what we know:
- Basic payments will start to be phased out over the next seven years. It's expected that around 50% will be gone within four years
- The SFI will be officially launched in 2022. More details about the scheme are due to be published by June of this year
- Existing stewardship packages will be expanded and will continue to 2023 (more on this below)
- New grant schemes are on the way. These will help farmers to fund farming equipment and technology, as well as serve as a useful tool for supporting soil health and reducing soil disturbance
- We will still have cross-compliance (we have a dedicated team who are able to support you with this area should you need guidance. You can find more information here).
The three parts of the ELM scheme
The new ELM scheme is set to have three levels but, as yet, there has been no further detail on payment rates. The levels are as follows:
- The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI ) - This will be a 'bolt on' to existing agreements and will pay for environmental options. The SFI will evolve over the next four years and will then go on to form the first tier of ELMs from 2024 onwards
- Local Nature Recovery - The key aim of this level will be to encourage farmers and land managers to work together and deliver on local nature recovery and environmental priorities. For example, this will include farm cluster groups, education and flood management
- Landscape Recovery - This level is aimed at larger, specialist projects such as peatland restoration and large-scale woodland planting.
What does it mean when we say, "existing stewardship schemes will continue to 2023"?
When it comes to applying for a scheme, you will still be able to do this until 2023. If you are in an existing Environmental Stewardship (ES) scheme or Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme when the ELM scheme is brought in, you will not be penalised.
This is positive news, with DEFRA recognising that policy needs to move away from the current penalty system and be replaced with a more proportionate inspection regime. The change should mean a more sensible system in which scheme members are sent warning letters and guidance – giving them the chance to 'put things right' rather than be issued a default penalty. In essence, it is more targeted to supporting growers and benefiting the environment and farmed landscape.Payment rates will still be based on income forgone which suggests a fixed rate for each option, like the current system.
A positive change to the future of farming
While there's certainly a lot to take in from recent news and change is always unnerving, the new 'roadmap' document has provided some welcome clarity and it is reassuring to see a long term plan. There is no doubt we are all going to be embarking on quite a new and different journey in some respects, but we see it as one full of opportunity.
Walking "The Path to Sustainable Farming" with you
Our team at Kings has had many queries as news around these schemes has progressed and we're always on hand to offer guidance and expertise. As mentioned, change can be daunting but we're here to help you navigate any new policy so that you can make it work for you and your business. It's reassuring to see that a well structured path has been paved for the future of farming and we shouldn't downplay the positives. They are somewhat rare these days!
Part of our work includes direct involvement with Frontier's dedicated sustainable crop production team. As more farmers and land managers look for trusted advisors to support them in this new era of farm policy, the demand to implement sustainable crop production systems that work in harmony with the environment is growing. The team comprises a wealth of knowledge and technical expertise and will develop solutions to help growers manage:
- Soil health – particularly through Frontier's Soil Life service
- ELMs and legislation
- Digital farm management tools
- Regenerative agriculture
- The use of biological products.
As we embark on this new era, on behalf of everyone at Kings we'd like to thank you for taking the time to read the advice and guidance posted by our advisors. Last year was one to remember, sadly for the wrong reasons, but as always the agricultural industry has soldiered on. The ability of farmers and land managers to adapt never ceases to amaze us and we're looking forward to supporting you again throughout 2021.
If you have questions about the new policy or would like help, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us online or call 0800 587 9797.