Entry Level and Uplands Entry level Stewardship Update April 2012

23rd April 2012

Entry Level Stewardship has been with us for five years now, and those who joined up at the start are coming to the end of their agreements, and either renewing or considering renewing their agreement. Additionally a number of upland farmers are coming to UELS for the first time as ESA agreements are coming to an end. ELS is not competitive; if you can achieve the points for specific management options then you are guaranteed to receive the funding. The annual payment for non SDA land is £30 per hectare, £62 per hectare on SDA and parcels of land above the Moorland line of less than 15 hectares, and £23 per hectare for parcels above the Moorland line of 15 or more hectares.

The annual non SDA payment (especially when written as £12 per acre) doesn’t sound much; however, if you think of it as a guaranteed payment for 5 years, for example, on a 300 acre lowland farm then £18,000 sounds considerably more attractive. Farmers should always bear in mind that the commitment is for five years, so any planned changes in say cropping over the five years which may impact on compliance should be carefully considered. A further consideration is the reform of the Single Payment Scheme, in particular the “greening” proposals, with farmers obliged to mmaintain an ‘ecological focus area of at least 7 per cent of farmland (excluding permanent grassland), which would include field margins, hedges, trees, fallow land, landscape features, buffer strips, afforested area, i.e. many of the options within ELS.

Choosing the appropriate options is something of a balancing act between the environmental benefit and the cost of complying or income foregone. Some ELS options such as management plans for soil manures and fertilisers are no longer eligible for points. Whilst many farmers have opted to take points from existing features such as hedgerows and trees, some are now questioning the desirability and effectiveness of cutting hedges every two or three years, and are looking at in-field options where these can be used without too great an impact on output.

Natural England are also hoping for a greater uptake of in-field options, as these are seen to have an additional benefit over trees and hedges which to a certain extent are perceived as “being there anyway”. Natural England have targeting maps for priority factors such as water and soil protection, farmland birds, wildlife and the historic environment, and which options contribute towards these priorities. These are detailed in a series of four “Farming for…” leaflets produced by Natural England. Last year there were a total of 203 million points “scored” by all live ELS agreements. In 2012 Natural England aims to increase the number of points scored by high priority ELS options from 114.8m (56%) to 120m (61%).

Closely linked to ELS is the Campaign for Farmed Environment. This scheme is voluntary for English farmers, but if there is insufficient uptake then there is the threat of a return to compulsory set-aside. Just how far this is a real threat to UK farmers is difficult to assess meaningfully.

ELS applications can either be completed on paper or on-line; the number of farmers using online application had risen to around 40% in 2011, and will continue to rise driven in part by (slowly) improving broadband in the more isolated rural areas.

And finally, …. For those with existing ELS agreements, some key dates for the next four months are:

April

1st

Do not cut/harrow/roll permanent grassland & rush pastures from this date (EK2-4)

20th

Complete establishment of undersown cereal crop (EG1)

May

15th

Spray undesirable weed species from this date (EF22)

June

1st

Can cut/roll/harrow grassland from today (EK2)

15th

Cut half area of nectar flower mixture from this date (EF4)

July

1st

Earliest date to harvest undersown cereal crop (EG1)

Can cut/roll/harrow from 1st July (EK3)

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