DAVID Morley, Head of Conservation and Environment at H&H Land and Estates provides an update on information farmers need to know on current farming and rural payments schemes.

THE Rural Payments Agency (RPA) began making Basic Payment Scheme payments at the beginning of December and claims to have paid nearly 60,000 farmers nationally within the first two weeks. This equates to 92 per cent of the payments due within this period, worth some £1.6 billion to England’s farmers.

However, farmers with more complex claims, including those with common rights, are again finding they are having to wait longer for their payments.

The RPA announced the 2019 payment rates in early November. These are similar to the rates for 2018 and 2017: non-SDA £232.84 per ha; SDA £231.15 per ha; moorland £63.42 per ha.

Once a payment has been made, the RPA issue a “Claim Statement”, which shows how the payment has been calculated. It is vital that farmers check that Statement as errors are still commonplace, especially where mapping changes have been made during the year.

With regard to Cross-Compliance, there are no changes anticipated for 2020.

The RPA has announced that it is now making one annual payment each year to Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreement holders.

This replaces the previous 75 per cent – 25 per cent split payment that has operated for the last few years. The payment window for 2019 payments runs from December 2019 to the end of June 2020 and many agreement holders will have already received their payment.

Although most CS agreements are for five or 10 years, all the agreed capital works must be completed within the first two years and then claimed by the following March. For agreements that started on January 1, 2018, this means all works should now be complete and must be claimed before the end of March 2020. It is critical not to miss this deadline, as the RPA will not pay out on late claims.

For Countryside Stewardship 2020, it is expected that the RPA will again run the Mid Tier and Higher Tier schemes, plus the Hedgerows & Boundaries Grant for hedge and wall restoration. More details on the application windows for the various CS strands is expected next month.

Countryside Stewardship has been undersubscribed since its launch in 2015. This is because for many farmers, it remains unattractive due to the onerous application process and record keeping requirements and low payment rates for some options.

However, the scheme can provide a useful income where options are compatible with the current farming system, especially on mixed arable and livestock farms. Options like growing cereal for whole-crop silage (£495 per ha) are particularly attractive.

The scheme can also offer significant capital grants for wall and hedge restoration and, in most of Cumbria, for water quality improvements delivered by roofing over middens and silage pits or re-concreting yards. With the low take-up so far, most farmers who have applied for a CS agreement have been offered exactly what they asked for, both in terms of options and capital works.

My final word of advice to farmers would be not to miss out; although Countryside Stewardship is not for everyone, it is well worth exploring whether the scheme would be beneficial for your farm and we are always happy to provide advice.