With the deadline to request a Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier application pack just one week away, Farming Minister Robert Goodwill speaks about why he believes farmers should consider getting into an agreement
The deadline to request a Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier application pack is just one week away - and I know there will be a number of farmers in two minds about whether they should consider getting into an agreement.
I do not want to underplay the problems that both Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) have faced and we at Defra are the first to admit that the delays to payments have been unacceptable.
I fully understand the frustration that this has caused, which has had a knock-on effect on overall confidence in these schemes at a time when we most need farmers to be factoring the environment into their business planning.
First, I want to offer some reassurance about the improvements that are already underway in the delivery of Countryside Stewardship.
Almost all CS 2019 agreement offers were issued to farmers before March this year, meaning that agreement holders can get straight to work delivering on the options in their agreement.
There have been ongoing improvements to payments too, with 95 per cent of eligible customers having received their 2018 CS Advance payment.
There have also been important changes to the way farmers can apply for 2020 agreements, with people now able to download application packs online (in addition to calling in for a pack to be sent out).
For the first time farmers can apply online for Upland, Lowland and Mixed Farm Offers, alongside our existing online forms for our Arable Offer.
Applying for CS this year will put farmers in a strong position to participate in the new Environmental Land Management system when it is rolled out. When ELM replaces the current schemes under Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy, there will no subsidy for farming the land.
Instead, public money will be given for the delivery of environmental benefits – such as better air and water quality, or protecting ecologically important species.
Protecting the environment plays a vital role in boosting the productivity and viability of our land, through reducing the risk of flooding and enhancing the health of our soils, and can offer a valuable income stream for businesses.
These CS offers provide an excellent gateway to those who are perhaps new to stewardship or unsure about how much of their land should go into a scheme. It also gives existing agreement holders the chance to continue using their local expertise and knowledge to deliver environmental benefits.
We are genuinely heading onwards and upwards with improvements to CS, after a challenging few years.
I would say to those who are unsure about whether to sign up for an agreement to go online and see the options available, with a week left to request a pack before 31 May.