Farming Minister George Eustice has finally confirmed Defra will permit the practice of ‘dual use’ to continue under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
However, it will not be permitted for 2016 Mid Tier agreements, potentially causing significant disruption, ahead of the September 30 deadline for applications.
The practice allows different claimants to claim direct payments and agri-environment scheme payments on the same land. Generally it is occurs where the tenant claims BPS under Pillar 1 and the landlord claims the environmental payment.
While it has been permitted under the Environmental Stewardship scheme, Defra was considering banning the practice under the new CSS.
But, after lengthy consideration and discussion with industry, Mr Eustice has confirmed the practice will be allowed to continue in England.
Dual use will be available:
While the decision will be welcomed by some prospective CSS agreement holders the announcement not to allow it for the first 2016 Mid-Tier agreements will cause difficulties so close to the application deadline.
NFU countryside adviser Claire Robinson said the ’the goalposts have changed’ when it comes to Mid-Tier agreements. More than 5000 mid-tier application packs have been sent out to potential applicants.
"Potentially it affects all applicants with a landlord tenant arrangement on the land," she said.
Commenting on Twitter she added "This year dual use is not allowed: nine days to sort ahead of application deadline! Mid-tier applicants will not be notified of the change, yet they are expected to get the application right."
Mr Eustice said the decision would ensure environmental work could be delivered more cost effectively and over a larger area, while ensuring the existing BPS application process is un-interrupted and payments are delivered on time.
He said: “We have worked hard to identify a way of allowing dual use to continue so that it is possible to ensure that some of our most effective countryside stewardship projects can continue to be developed as part of the farmed environment.
“I am very pleased to be able to secure the future of this approach.
The issue divided farming organisations. The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) was keen to retain the policy, while the Tenant Farmers Association had been calling to see the back of it.
Defra suggested removing the policy would have created difficulties where there was one landowner and multiple tenants. Without dual use there would have to be separate environmental agreements with each tenant,it said.
Speaking at a hustings event before the General Election, Defra Secretary Liz Truss said the Government supported dual use ’in principle’. But she said Defra was concerned it might put too much strain on its new CAP IT system.
“It is an IT issue not a philosophical policy issue,” she said. “I have had a lot of representation on dual use. We are working on potential solutions to that problem, which could be within the IT system itself or more broad. But we do want to work with landowners and tenants to make that work.”
Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn said: “DEFRA has certainly dropped the ball here.
"How can it be the case that one party has the land and their disposal for BPS whilst another has sufficient management control to be able to claim Countryside Stewardship?
"Only those deemed to have the land at their disposal are properly able to deliver the necessary management control required for stewardship.
"Given their dislike of dual use, it will be interesting to see how this is received by the EU Auditors and whether this leaves England at a higher risk of disallowance.
"Sadly, this leaves the door open for some landlords to force tenants to comply with agri-environment schemes in which the landlord receives all of the benefit and bears little if any of the costs.”
CLA director of policy and advice Christopher Price said: “The dual use system is fundamental to sustaining important agri-environment schemes.
"In many cases it is the landowner who is investing in providing habitats for wildlife, managing woodland and waterways and so they should receive the payment.
“The CLA has been campaigning for this continuation for some time and this is a big win for farmers and landowners who wish to protect and improve the land that they manage.
“However, we are disappointed that dual use will not be made available to Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship applications for 2016. The CLA will continue to push for clarity on this matter.”
NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “The NFU has lobbied for the continuation of dual use throughout the development of Countryside Stewardship to allow business flexibility.
“So while we welcome the decision to allow dual use for applications for next year, it is frustrating that Defra has taken until now to reach a decision on this year’s applications so late in the process.
“The application window for mid-tier closes in eight days’ time, leaving very little time for applicants to change their applications in response.
"This confusion won’t encourage farmers to put in applications for this year. We also understand applicants have the choice to remove land with dual use from their application or leave making an application until next year.”