Farming Minister George Eustice writes for Farmers Guardian in a new monthly column.
There were great intentions behind the design of Countryside Stewardship (CS) schemes to enhance the environment, but the burdens of EU law and the associated administrative processes means, for farmers, it has sometimes felt like a complex and difficult scheme to get to grips with.
I understand the frustration of farmers about things such as the sheer length of application forms and the hassle of collecting supporting evidence. So we have listened and made changes which I think farmers will welcome.
My message to farmers who have previously been put off the scheme is take another look.
The CS application window is now open for farmers and land managers to request application packs, and you can check which options you might apply for which fit in a productive farm plan. You will see immediately things have changed for the better.
The form itself is shorter, involving fewer steps, and the supporting evidence requirements have been simplified.
We are introducing four new CS offers, for arable, lowland grazing, upland and mixed farms, to encourage more farmers and land managers to get involved.
More experienced farmers and those coming out of Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) schemes can expand their environment practices on the farm by applying for a greater range of options in the new offer they choose. The new wildlife offers are also non-competitive, which means precious time spent filling in the application form will not have been in vain.
The online application form for the arable offer, which opens in February, is an important step towards cutting down time taken to make an application and process an agreement.
We have opened up the scheme to more farmers from a diverse range of farms and managed land with the new CS offers for wildlife.
Now, farmers from the upland areas can apply for a non-competitive universal scheme for the first time, and secure agreements which will pay for an improved environment for wildlife and future generations to enjoy.
All agreements made before we leave the EU are guaranteed for five years. This means farmers will continue to receive payments even after Brexit.
Farmers and land managers who are new to CS or coming out of ELS or Higher Level Stewardship agreements, may find these new offers a useful bridge between our current system of subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy to a future scheme, where public money is allocated for public goods.
*Farming Minister George Eustice is keen to take farmers’ suggestions on topics for his new monthly FG column. To suggest a topic or question email firstname.lastname@example.org