Farmers have been encouraged to apply for funding under a 2021 Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement to improve their local environment.
The application window for the simplified CS scheme opened on February 11 and will provide a stepping stone to the Government’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which will reward farmers for producing ‘public goods’, such as better air and water quality.
Rural Payments Agency (RPA) chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “We are continuously making Countryside Stewardship easier to apply for and simpler to administer, with full CS payments arriving in bank accounts much earlier this year than in previous years.
“The application window this year is a great opportunity to get into a scheme that is improving all the time, and which rewards farmers and land managers for their vital work to protect our countryside and enhance the environment for generations to come.
“I would encourage farmers and their agents to complete their applications and claims promptly and ensure they are submitted by the deadline.”
The Government will be rolling out a national pilot in 2021 to test how ELM works on the ground, with the scheme expected to be fully operational by the end of 2024.
NFU countryside adviser Alisha Anstee welcomed the opening of another round of CS to new applicants saying: “We are pleased to see the flexibility of an early exit into the future ELMs when it is rolled out in 2024.”
Ms Anstee added further enhancements such as monthly or quarterly start dates would be necessary to help support farmers through the ‘difficult transition period’ to ELMS.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker criticised prescriptions under the previous scheme claiming payments had arrived ‘appallingly’ late but welcomed the ‘direction’ provided by this simplified CS agreement.
He said: “This new scheme will be an early test of Defra and the RPA’s ability to do things differently following our departure from the EU, but if environmental works and its income is important to a farm business, then it has to be worth giving it a go.”
George Hoyes, farm consultant in the Chelmsford office of Strutt and Parker highlighted entering the scheme would provide farmers with a secure revenue stream for the next five years, adding: “This will become increasingly important as Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) support starts falling away from 2021.”
Those signed up to CS who secure a place in the ELM pilot from 2021, or wish to enter the scheme when it is fully rolled out, will be able to leave their agreements at agreed exit points, without penalty.
To apply and find out more visit GOV.UK