In an exclusive interview with Defra minister George Eustice, Lauren Dean hears what the new Countryside Stewardship scheme means for farmers.
The offers have been announced for the 2018 application window for agreements to start on January 1 2019.
You mention four new streamlined offers, what are they?
There will be four schemes: arable, lowland grazing, uplands and mixed farming. Between these the intention is that farmers will be able to get into an agreement.
It is really simplified; a universal offer any farmer who meets the eligibility requirements can take up with no competitiveness and as little as three options.
There are about 12-15 options for farmers to choose from but they are also ones that deliver most value to the environment. The four schemes are split into three categories and farmers will choose at least option from each category.
Category three tends to have a few more options but the payments are quite generous.
Does this mean less paperwork?
We had a look at what farmers wanted and cut the application form in half, to about seven pages from fifteen or so.
What we want farmers to do is rather than employ an agent to put the application together, take a look at the four packages, choose which one they want to apply for and fill out the application forms themselves.
Do you think it will encourage more farmers to take it up?
That is exactly our intention. We listened to farmers concerns and worries and now think it is much easier to navigate and quite familiar to those moving across from the ELS scheme.
Farmers are doing great work under the ELS but have not been moving across to Countryside Stewardship.
Hopefully now farmers coming out of the ELS last year will take a look at these schemes; it is more beneficial because it has as little as three options so is much easier to apply for and secure funding.
Processing by Natural England and the RPA will be much smoother because it has also been a problem on the administration side for Defra.
My advice to farmers is if you have never found the Countryside Stewardship scheme attractive, take a fresh look at it and give it another chance.
Will the scheme be rolled out to the devolved?
This is very much a scheme specifically for England but we are primarily simplifying the scheme to get farmers involved.
It is a possible stepping stone to what the future agricultural policy may be like.
There are 11 arable options to choose from, and farmers must pick at least one option from each category:
There are seven options to choose from, and farmers must pick at least one option from category one and two:
There are no categories in the uplands offer but there are four base options and additional supplements farmers can choose from. As a minimum, farmers must choose one base option and two supplements, OR two base options and one supplement.
More options can then be selected.
There are 14 arable options to choose from, and farmers must pick at least one option from each category: