“Environmental Land Management Schemes” (ELMS) were first suggested over two years ago, as part of the Health and Harmony consultation. We have since been told that much of the funding being withdrawn from the existing BPS subsides will be redirected into EMLS, but up to now there has been little clarity as to the detailed nature of the new arrangements.
At least some of the uncertainty has now been lifted. On 10 March DEFRA published details of the payment rates for the pilot schemes for the “Sustainable Farm Initiative (SFI)”, which is the bottom level of ELMS and which, it is believed, will be attainable by most farms. The higher levels will be more akin to the old Higher Level Stewardship schemes and will apply at area or regional level (in the latter case, at least, involving multi-farm co-operation for all but the largest estates).
SFI will be set firmly at single farm level, and from 2022, farmers who have been claiming BPS will be able to enter SFI schemes. The schemes seem to fall somewhere between the old and very popular Entry Level Scheme (ELS) and the more recent and less well used Environmental Stewardship arrangements. There will initially be eight “standards”, with more possibly being added in future. Each standard will have three levels of activity (introductory, intermediate and advanced), each with different payment levels. The standards cover:
- Arable and horticultural land
- Arable and horticultural soil
- Improved grassland standard
- Improved grassland soil
- Low and no input grassland
- Waterbody buffering
- Farm woodland
The standards are not exclusive, different standards can be applied to the same land parcel, so for example, it will be possible to claim land, soil, hedgerow and waterbody buffering on the same field. From the piloting information it would appear that the same level per standard will need to be applied across the farm, so if the intermediate hedgerow standard is claimed, all hedgerows selected for the scheme would need to meet that standard. From what one can deduce from the available information, almost all farms will be able to meet some of the standards and those which are already embracing stewardship may well find they can achieve the higher level without too much change to their business models.
The paper also gave details of the pilot schemes, although the window for signing up was quite tight and has now elapsed. The payment rates in the pilot are not necessarily those which would apply in the main scheme, but by way of illustration, arable land, would be eligible for up to £74/ha with a further £59/ha if the top level soil standard is also met. If one can also make claims for hedges and buffer strips, the payments could come to well over £160/ha which compares quite well with the current rate for BPS.
There are of course rules to prevent conflicts between the standards and overlapping of existing schemes, so SFI payments will not be available on land already in agri-environment schemes. It appears that SFI can be claimed at the same time as BPS, so the diminishing BPS income stream should be at least partially is replaced by a growing take up of SFI.
The explanatory document (which makes interesting reading and runs to some 25 pages) is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sustainable-farming-incentive-scheme-pilot-launch-overview.*The views expressed are the author's and not ICAEW's.