Are you confused by Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier? SWFC’s Anna Heaton outlines the key options that should suit most farms
Since Countryside Stewardship opened for applications on 11 February 2020, the SWFC team began visiting mixed livestock and arable farms across the country to discuss Mid-Tier applications for agreements that will commence on 1 January 2021.
Although COVID-19 has obviously now restricted our on-farm activities, we can still provide help and support for those planning to submit a Mid-Tier application before this year’s deadline of 31 July.
With over 140 options, capital items and supplements to choose from, we know that applying for Mid-Tier can seem rather daunting, to say the least. But in our experience, we find that most farms tend to select from a much smaller pool of common options. In this article, we outline the key considerations when planning your Mid-Tier application and provide a useful list of the most common options we are including in new agreement applications.
MID-TIER: AN OVERVIEW
First, a quick overview. Mid-Tier agreements last for five years. The applications we are doing this year are for agreements that will run from 1 January 2020 until 31 December 2024. The window for requesting an application pack is open until 30 June (for electronic application requests) and completed applications must be submitted by 31 July 2020.
Mid-Tier agreements can include capital items, such as fencing, restoring earth banks or stone walls and hedge laying. Those in priority Catchment Sensitive Farming areas have access to a wider range of capital grants – but these must be agreed with the relevant Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer.
Mid-Tier is a competitive scheme; in other words, you aren’t guaranteed to get every option you apply for. The only exceptions to this are the organic conversion and maintenance options. If you have land that’s in conversion to organic or land that is fully organic you will definitely get those support payments, but not necessarily any other options you apply for.
Many farmers have really wanted to support farmland birds but haven’t been able to justify taking land out of production. Mid-Tier grant can make the support of farm wildlife objectives economically viable.
Generally, we find that the more balanced your application is – in other words, how well you show you are delivering different environmental benefits across your farm – the more likely you are to get your options accepted.
Revenue claims for Mid-Tier agreements are made online, with the same deadline as BPS: 15 May each year. The payment window is technically the same as the BPS payment window – 1 December to 30 June—but we have seen a trend of delays in Countryside Stewardship payments in recent years. Hopefully, this will become less of an issue as time goes on.
Unlike previous stewardship payments, you get the full amount for one year’s revenue claim as a single payment. Capital claims can be made all year round – and assuming the correct information is submitted, have been getting paid within 6 to 8 weeks.
Building your application
Building an agreement takes time. You need to consider not only what you are doing on your farm now, but what you want to be doing for the next five years.
If you commit to a land-based option, for example, you will have to meet the requirements for each of the five years of the agreement. So putting in 50ha of wholecrop because that’s what you’re doing right now only makes sense if you know you want to keep doing that amount over the next five years.
Field sizes vary so it’s also worth working out what the smallest area might be in your farm rotation. Farmers often say that they’ll put in 10ha of brassicas each year. But when you look at the rotation you might see that in year 4 the two fields you intend to use only amount to a total of 9ha of brassicas. You’ll then need to decide whether you’re prepared to find another hectare somewhere for brassicas that year; or, as we’d advise, if it’s more sensible to simply apply for 9ha, safe in the knowledge that you’ll meet that each year under the agreement.
When recommending specific options for farms, we start by looking at what the farm is already doing and which options would fit well. Then we’ll move on to consider other appropriate options, where the balance is often between the changes the farm would need to make to meet the prescriptions and the payment the option attracts.
Obviously, the farms’ aims for what they want to deliver will play a big part here, too. We have examples of farmers who have really wanted support farmland birds but haven’t been able to justify taking land out of production to deliver this. The Mid-Tier grant can make the support of farm wildlife objectives economically viable.
It is important to make sure that all prescriptions are carefully checked before committing to them. A lot of people are interested in option GS4 – Legume and herb-rich swards (only available to non-organic farmers). However, this option requires fields to be shut up and not cut or grazed for a five-week period between 1 May and 31 July. On the plus side, you can pick the five-week period—and if you have several field parcels with this option you can stagger the rest periods so you always have access to cut or graze some of this land. However, on the negative side, a lot of farms are interested in this option as they are hoping it will provide grazing in the summer when other leys dry up – so having any restriction over its use at this time of year can be a big deterrent.
The most common Mid-Tier options
We’ve produced a downloadable list (see below) of the most common options that we’re including in agreements for 2021. Some of these are suitable for both organic and non-organic farmers; any that have restrictions relating to organic status are clearly indicated. The list doesn’t include the organic conversion and maintenance options, as the prescription is basically that the land needs to be under organic management and registered with a certification body. If you want more information on going organic take a look at our Thinking About Going Organic article here — and feel free to get in touch!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD SWFC’S LIST OF COMMON MID-TIER OPTIONS
Can we help?
SWFC can help you pick through the different Countryside Stewardship options and their prescriptions and help you to decide what works best for your farm. We are happy to assist as much or as little as you want – from helping you pick options, completing the application on your behalf, or just doing final checks before you submit an application you’ve completed.
Get in touch now for a no-obligation chat on 01503 220002 or send us a message on our Contact Page.