Making the most of ELMS
Most farmers are aware that environmental activity will play a large part in future government support for agriculture, but what can farmers start doing now to prepare for the upcoming changes? We spoke to Pearce Seeds’ agronomist Stuart Batchelor, who specialises in this area.
“BPS farm payments will have reduced by at least 50% in 2024, before completely disappearing in 2028. During this transition period from direct subsidy support to ‘public money for public goods’, there will be several new schemes and grants available. These are intended to enhance the natural environment, improve animal welfare and increase farm efficiencies with high standards of production.
“Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) will consist of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), Local Nature Recovery scheme and Landscape Recovery scheme. Pilots for the SFI begin this year (2021) before being launched in 2022. The other two schemes will pilot in 2022 and launch in 2024.
“The SFI will pay farmers to manage their land in an environmentally sustainable way, and it’s certainly not too early to start thinking about how this might work on your farm. The scheme is made up from a set of standards, with each standard based on a feature like ‘soils’ or ‘animal health and welfare’. Farming activities in these areas are graded on three levels of ambition (‘introductory’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’). Farmers will be paid for the sustainable farming actions they take, and can specify where on their land they will apply them.
Stewardship schemes – Plan for the future
“Current stewardship schemes are continuing, with applications possible into the spring of 2022 and 2023. DEFRA has promised that those who have subscribed to current schemes will be at no disadvantage when ELMS become available. We are therefore seeing and encouraging clients to start putting land into agreements such as Mid-Tier stewardship, as a way to prepare for the upcoming changes. This not only allows farmers to take advantage of some funding straight away, but also helps them think about what’s possible on their holding in terms of environmental enhancement. In addition, with water and air pollution being a priority, those in High Water Quality Priority areas can access capital funding for projects such as roofing over silage clamps and concreting. If you do this as part of a Mid-Tier application, the capital grant limit increases from £20k to £120k so it’s worth exploring how this could benefit your farm.
“To maximise environmental benefit, most stewardship options have specific stipulations you must adhere to, so you need to weigh up the potential pros and cons to your business before committing. For example, GS2 (permanent grassland with very low inputs) is a popular option for low input fields, but grass must not be cut until after 1st July. However, you can combine options and obtain cattle grazing supplements (GS17) on the same land. Taking ‘small areas out of management’ (GS1) is also a good option, and great for awkward field corners.
“For those who have an intensive grass farm, the options available under stewardship can look limited, but now is the time to explore what might work on your farm. DEFRA has recognised that mowing fields of ryegrass is not very good for biodiversity, and so is discouraging monoculture through options such as herbal-rich leys (GS4 £309/ha). If you are due to re-seed, we certainly encourage farms to experiment with more diverse sward mixtures. Not only do they provide excellent feed value, contain nitrogen-fixing legumes, improve soil structure and organic matter, but they can also be more drought-resistant. Again, there is a stipulation you must not cut or graze these fields for a five-week period between 1st May and 31st July, to allow clover to flower and pollinators to benefit.
“For arable farms, there are more options to choose from such as wild bird seed areas, pollen and nectar mixes and field margins. A particularly good option is AB15, which is a 2-year legume fallow. This provides a reliable break crop in the rotation that builds organic matter, allows topping of grass weeds and provides a known annual income (£522/hectare).
Manage your land, make the change and move forward
“While this might appear to be a minefield if you usually apply for BPS online yourself, you should be able to navigate the stewardship options and forthcoming ELMs schemes without too much difficulty. However, the skill of combining options and making the right decisions for your farm system can be complex, so we recommend speaking to your agronomist or adviser to ensure you make appropriate changes for your business.”
Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time.Future Farming Programme