There are only a few months left until the Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship application window closes on 31 July 2020 and farmers should be applying to ensure financial stability in the long term.
Countryside Stewardship agreements will continue to be offered in 2022 and 2023, until the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is introduced in 2024.
ELMS is still very much a concept but the current Government papers indicate that it will be a three tier scheme with Tier 1 matching most closely to the current Countryside Stewardship scheme.
That said, many expect farmers will be required to do more under ELMS to receive equivalent payments to Countryside Stewardship.
The current Government plans allow Countryside Stewardship Agreement holders with 2021-onward start dates to swap into the ELMS without penalty if there are more attractive options.
It is a good time to enter into a Countryside Stewardship Agreement as the scheme has been up and running for a number of years and many of the initial teething problems have been resolved.
The application and evidence requirements have been simplified. The funding received from Countryside Stewardship will also go some way to plug the gap left by the reducing Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments from 2021 onwards.
The movement of Government policy towards ‘public money for public goods’ means that farmers will increasingly be expected to provide public benefit in return for monetary investment.
This includes measures such as increasing biodiversity, improving water quality and carbon fixing.
Some of these measures may eventually become mandatory, which is why Countryside Stewardship provides an opportunity to implement some of those additional measures whilst there is still funding to support those required works.
The industry and wider world are understandably focusing their efforts elsewhere right now as we navigate these uncertain times.
However, as it stands, the deadline to submit the Countryside Stewardship application remains unchanged, which is why it is important to complete a submission before the end of July.
This would help to secure income for farming businesses, and ultimately protect their financial viability in the long term.