Sustainable Farming Incentive & Countryside Stewardship Capital Only Agreements

All our farming customers will have realised that the Basic Payment which in various forms (Single Payment & IACS) has endured since 1993 is now very much in decline. 2023 was the last year that farmers will need to complete a Basic Payment application, with entitlements scrapped and the de linked Basic Payment to be paid to the 2023 claimant whether they still have any land.

The payment in 2024 will be half what it was only a handful of years ago. 2027 will be the last BPS payment after which the scheme ends. What’s there to replace the Basic Payment income? Or at least part of the income?

Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)

After a lacklustre start the RPA have finally got to grips with SFI and in June published some 25 actions which are on a very much pick and mix basis to suit individual farmers. Up to that point I was very enthusiastic and Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier made rather more sense largely because farmers could unlock the Capital Grant element to help with (for instance) relaying Concrete Yards (RP15) and Sheep Fencing (FG2). My original thoughts have changed. The SFI proposals now match the equivalent Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier options but with less restriction, providing the options aims are achieved, this allows more flexibility and means agreement holders aren’t restricted to particular rules and dates masking it easier to farm alongside an agreement without necessarily reducing output . Agreements are for 3 years and offer quarterly payments straight into the bank account. On grassland or mixed holdings SFI offers attractive options including:

LIG1 – Managing grassland with very low inputs. £151/ha (£61.11/acre)

The option aims are to provide a sward with flowering grasses and wildflowers to provide shelter and food for invertebrates and birds. The action does allow farmers to spread FYM or the equivalent in manufactured fertilizer, supplementary feeding of livestock providing poaching is avoided and importantly allows earlier mowing for forage providing the sward is shut up for 7 weeks in the spring or summer.

SAM3 – Herbal Leys. £382/ha (£154.59/acre)

The action’s aims are to provide a varied root structure to improve soil structure, carbon, biology and fertility. This option is rotational and would suit a mixed farming enterprise providing a good break crop followed by a cash crop such as winter wheat.

AHL2 – Winter Bird Food. £732/ha (£296.23/ acre)

The option aims are to provide food sources for birds in the autumn and winter and encourage flowering plants in the summer for insects. A useful rotational option established with at least 6 crops excluding certain crops but often used on headlands and in field corners.

AHL4 – 4 – 12m Grass Buffer Strips. £451/ha (£182.51/acre)

The aims are to have a grass buffer strip to protect landscape features, provide wildlife habitat and prevent nutrients and sediments being carried into watercourses. The option requires the establishment or maintenance of an existing buffer that is already in place. SFI also offers several agreement wide options including SAM1 (assess soil and test organic matter) £5.80/ha plus £95 per agreement, IPM1 Integrated Pest Management plan £989/ year and NUM1 Assess Nutrient Management £589/year. SFI holders will also benefit from an annual management payment of £20/ha on the first 50ha which is a maximum payment of £1000pa. The current RPA thinking is very much aimed at encouraging farmers to be more efficient and profitable. Use the SFI options on the less productive land, headlands, field corners and wet areas. Concentrate on farming the most productive land well rather than losing money farming those areas which don’t produce the yield. James McIntyre BSc MRICS FAAV has already completed the first applications and provided advice to many more farmers. James has considerable experience in Environmental Stewardship having completed applications and provided advice since 2005. Please contact James on 07533 207955. Email: jm@ gherbertbanks.co.uk.

Countryside Stewardship Capital Grants

As of 2023 farmers can now apply for a stand-alone CS Capital Grant to help fund work to field boundaries and farmyards and these agreements run alongside the SFI agreements. Helpfully the previous agreement limits have been removed and as of 1st January 2023 the capital rates have been increased to compensate for the higher material and labour costs. There is no deadline for applications which will help with workloads particularly for those farmer s needing advice from Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers in relation to RP15 (Concrete Yard Renewal) and RP28 (Roofing over livestock feeding and handling areas) other similar options.

New payment rates include:

• FG2 Sheep Fencing £7.47/metre

• BN11 Hedge Planting £11.60/metre

• RP15 Concrete Yard Renewal ££33.64/ square metre

• RP16 Rainwater Goods £11.55/metre

• RP28 Roofing over livestock gathering areas, slurry stores etc. £72.50 square metre.

Helpfully CS Capital Agreements are processed quickly and now allow capital work to be completed over 3 years with claims made in stages to help with cash flow. There are also a number of smaller grants available including the Slurry Infrastructure Grant, Grant for Calf Housing so do get in touch to discuss.

Read our full update here.

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