This year’s round of funding opened at the end of last month for a start date of January 2020.

While the Government’s Agriculture Bill is set to overhaul the payments system, the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) will not be rolled out nationally until 2025 at the earliest, while the proposed Basic Payment Scheme reductions are due to begin in 2021. Land owners and managers should therefore consider the potential business benefits of securing a funding agreement now under the existing CS scheme.

A well-considered and fitting CS agreement could be a useful route for many farming businesses which are grappling with the prospect of a potential funding gap. Stephen Lockwood of Savills Food & Farming team in Oxford explains: “Rather than waiting until 2025, it is sensible to review the opportunities available through CS and the options that may or may not work on individual holdings. It follows that those who start now are well-placed for the new ELMS, when the level of funding will be based on outcomes and not income forgone, as it currently is under CS”.

DEFRA has continued to invest in improving and streamlining the online CS application process and the Government is also guaranteeing ongoing funding for the Countryside Stewardship, providing agreements are agreed and signed before 31 December 2020.

To encourage take-up, DEFRA has continued to develop and promote the four wildlife offers – arable, lowland grassland, mixed farming and uplands – with a simplified application process and range of management options to choose from. Farmers applying for one of the wildlife offers are guaranteed an agreement providing they meet the minimum eligibility requirements for the offer.

For those holdings ineligible for the wildlife offers because they are too large for an online application (more than 200 field parcels) or contain a SSSI or Scheduled Monument the option is to apply for a Mid-Tier agreement. Organic farmers are also advised to apply through Mid-Tier in order to be able to access the organic management and conversions options.

The RPA, which has taken over from Natural England on the delivery of CS, is under Ministerial pressure to resolve the well-publicised delays in payments to both ES and CS agreement holders. Mr Lockwood concludes: “Farmers should not be put off from entering into a CS agreement because of the changes to the rules concerning ‘double funding’ that now prevents the overlap of 19 CS options on Ecological Focus Areas (EFA). CS agreements submitted in 2019 will have a start date of 1 January 2020 and therefore do not impact the 2019 BPS claim year. Additional EFA may need to be found for future BPS claim years, although DEFRA has indicated a simplification of elements of the BPS rules from 2020 onwards.”

The deadline for requesting a Mid-Tier application pack is 31 May 2019 and the application deadline is 31 July 2019.