SWFC’s Anna Heaton looks back on the 2020 Countryside Stewardship application process
A week on from the main Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier deadline at the end of July and we’ve been reviewing how the applications have gone this year. We know some people are still working to the COVID exception allowed by the RPA up to 31 August. But we always find it a useful process to review how things went after the applications have gone in and to see what we can learn.
It was an interesting year, to say the least, particularly given that COVID-19 restrictions meant that supporting agencies, such as Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers (CFSOs) and FWAG (when working on contract for RPA) were having to do everything remotely with no farm visits. Although we were out and about on farms, where needed, we were sticking to strict social distancing and outdoor meetings only. (The boot of my car had to double as a desk on more than one occasion!)
While chasing the highest paying options (when these require major management changes) might look good on paper, the agreement inevitably becomes a real pain by year two.
Overall, we submitted 12 applications on behalf of clients and advised on several more. Now we know some agents do a lot more than this but we prefer quality over quantity, and it was definitely an improvement on last year. From talking to the CFSOs and other agents it would seem to have been a bumper year for applications all around.
Organic on the rise?
We’ve had our usual mix of farm types: organic and non-organic, entirely arable, entirely livestock and mixed; as well as the usual range of size of application—from the organic farmer adding a couple of fields into conversion with an expected payment of £2,000 or so, right through to the larger applications in Catchment Sensitive Priority areas where the capital grants take us to an application in excess of £200,000. We have also assisted three farms that are completely new to organic certification to apply for Countryside Stewardship to support their organic conversion. Most conversion work that we have done recently has been with existing organic farmers, helping to add more land, so this is an interesting development.
This iconic Cotswold stone wall has fallen into a state of disrepair: a perfect candidate for Mid Tier
A quality service
When we start working with any new client on a Countryside Stewardship application, our aim is to understand what the farmer is doing now and what their aims are for the next five years. We can then help to develop an application that:
- Covers a range of options to score well with RPA
- Provide funding for necessary capital works
- Rewards the farm for management that they are already doing, as far as is possible
That isn’t to say we don’t explore options that might change cropping patterns or grazing management or put some land into buffer strips or flower margins. But we know from experience that while chasing the highest paying options (when these require major management changes) might look good on paper, the agreement inevitably becomes a real pain by year two…
We won’t hold our breath
So for now, a sigh of relief (and a gin and tonic or two) that all the applications, RLE1s and other paperwork were once again submitted well on time and with minimal stress for everyone involved.
But we’re already wondering how long it will take RPA to process our applications. To date, we’ve never had any agreements signed off before the start date of 1 January, so we’re not holding our breath. We’ll all just have to wait and see…
Can we help?
If you have an existing Stewardship agreement and you want advice on making claims for capital works, or fulfilling the requirements of your options, please get in touch. Or maybe you’re thinking about converting to organic production and how best to time your conversion to maximise possible Stewardship payments in a future agreement.
Whatever your stewardship question, we can help. Call for a no-obligation chat on 01503 220002 or send us a message on our Contact Page.