Tractor in a field

Finding Ways for Farmers to Access Funding Through the Environment-Focused Policy Maze

The way in which farmers and land managers can access funding from the UK Government’s environment-focused support schemes is ever evolving, and it is increasingly difficult to clarify what is eligible for funding, when the application windows are open and how to go about applying.

Chris Gill, Farm Business and Environment Advisor, highlights the schemes that offer farmers the principal routes to access financial incentives.

1. Countryside Stewardship

The Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme remains the central pillar of the Government’s shift to a greater emphasis on ‘environmental good’ in the UK farming industry. There are four possible elements to CS funding:

Mid Tier:  Agreements run for a duration of 5 years and offer a wide range of options and capital items to achieve environmental benefits with minimal impact on production. Payment rates have increased this year across the range of options. Applications are competitive and scored so it is beneficial to include a variety of options aimed at wide environmental benefits.

Wildlife Offer: Unlike the full Mid-Tier package, the Wildlife Offers are non-competitive as they are designed to provide a sufficient level of environmental benefits. Applicants pick from a prescribed list of Mid-Tier options and providing the minimum eligibility requirements are met, agreements will be approved.

These agreements work really well where farms have certain awkward field corners or less productive areas which when taken out of production not only benefit the environment but make agricultural operations easier.

The Application window for Mid-Tier and Wildlife Offers open on 21st March 2023 and deadline for applications is 18th August 2023.  Offers are expected to be  sent out September – December 2023 with agreements commencing January 2024.

Higher Tier: These agreements run for 10 years and are more complex and tailored to the individual site. The Application window opened on 7th February, with an earlier deadline of 29th April 2023 for submitting the initial application.

Stand Alone Capital Grants : Rolling applications year-round applications can be made across 4 themes: Water Quality, Air Quality, Natural Flood Management and Boundaries, Trees and Orchards. Historically, a limit of £20,000 could restrict certain projects. On the 8th March 2023, the RPA announced these limits were scrapped, opening up the opportunity for larger projects.

Common water quality capital items include concrete hard renewal, sprayer washdown area and roofing of manure storage areas/livestock handling areas/silage clamps. It is important to note that many of the capital items also require approval from the local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer. Historically, only farms which fell under Natural England’s Priority areas for this were eligible to apply. This year, a wider rollout has been given so all farms may apply, although not all farms may be successful in obtaining the grant. Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer approval may also be necessary for certain Mid and Higher Tier options, so make sure to check the requirements when applying.

Some are taking the view that Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers may look closer at individual projects as a result of this, so if you are applying for one of these grants, the key points on which the application will be assessed are: why a project needs to happen and how it will achieve environmental benefit.

2. Sustainable Farming Incentive

The idea behind the SFI scheme is that farms receive payments on a per hectare basis for improvements which many are already undertaking. In 2022, three standards were available: Arable and Horticultural Soils, Improved Grassland Soils and Moorland.

Farmers can continue to enter into these standards on a rolling application, with the opportunity to enter a further 6 standards which open in 2023 . The date of introduction is unknown but RPA have confirmed the new standards will cover: Nutrient management; Integrated pest management; Hedgerows; Arable and horticultural land; Improved grassland; Low/no input grassland.

The RPA has said that SFI offers a greater degree of flexibility than the current Mid-Tier CS agreements with regard to application dates, record keeping and implementation. For example, a farm may enter the introductory arable and horticultural soils standard now, and when the new standards open up later this year, they can enter into those too.

At the very least farmers who are eligible should look at the introductory level of the arable and horticultural soils standard and what they have to do to qualify for the payments. The payment rate of £22/ha may not be the most lucrative payment, but many farms are likely to already be implementing the standard criteria.

3. Farming Equipment and Technology Fund

This funding route is designed to support the adoption of more environmentally sensitive farming practice and management, in two broad areas:

Productivity and Slurry:  Grants have been split into categories ranging from arable and resource management including GPS kits, direct drills and yield mapping technology, through to tree shears for forestry and heat and calving detection systems on the livestock side. 

The minimum grant which can be received is £1,000 with a maximum of £25,000. These grants have increased slightly compared to last year, some farmers may feel that many of the higher value items are still unobtainable due to the machinery having to be brand new and paid in full. Going forwards, it is hoped the RPA will look at funding for second hand equipment through registered dealers, and on an agreed rate as a proportion of the cost.

Applications are open from 21st February until 4th April 2023.

Animal Health and Welfare : This follows a very similar format to the Productivity and Slurry Grant but funding is aimed at specific livestock enterprises comprising of Cattle, Sheep, Pigs and Poultry. Items include handling systems, electronic tagging and identification systems, specialist dairy equipment and shed infrastructure, feeding/feed weighing equipment and general fencing, housing, monitoring equipment.

Applications expected to open March 2023.

4. Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

This is a new funding avenue which is still in its infancy. There is some crossover with the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund and the future SFI Standards. The four ways in which funding can be obtained are:

  • Animal Health and Welfare Reviews: This has been gradually rolled out with pilot schemes in late 2022, with all livestock farmers who claim BPS now able to register their interest for this service online. Funding can be received for annual vet visits.
  • Animal Health and Welfare Capital Grants:  Identified above through the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund.
  • Disease eradication and control programmes: Farmers will be able to apply for financial support to prevent/reduce certain diseases in Cattle, Sheep and Pigs. Planned to open late 2023. 
  • Payment-by-results: Farmers could receive funding and support towards the costs of operating a higher-welfare system. This has planned trails for 2023. Details of this are still largely unknown. 

The schemes summarised above are the most accessible to most farms, but they are by no means the only way in which farmers and land managers can access additional financial support.

It may also be possible for farms to benefit from new opportunities to access private as well as Government funding. In the same way that farms are paid for producing commodity goods such as wheat, barley, beef, lamb, milk etc, there are now opportunities for farmers to secure funding for ‘public goods’, such as water companies paying farms for managing water in a way which assures high water quality, or housing developers paying farms for delivering Nutrient Neutrality or Biodiversity Net Gain.

There are many new opportunities for farmer and land managers, but the volume of information to interoperate and complexity of various schemes at a time of uncertainty for the industry, many farmers will need the help of a trusted advisor to identify all the opportunities that match the individual needs and aspirations of their farming business.