Plan now for agri-environment schemes’ uncertain future

    Delays in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are putting the future of agri-environment schemes in doubt.

    Funding for the current Environmental Stewardship schemes, such as ELS and HLS, runs out at the end of this year, and there has been no confirmation that funding will be made available for new entrants after December. In the face of this uncertainty, we are urging farmers who benefit from agri-environment schemes to check renewal dates and consider planning alternative ways of generating income.

    According to the NFU, the delay in CAP reform is unlikely to affect Pillar One direct support payments because legislation is in place to allow for the current Single Payment Scheme to continue on an annual basis. However, there will be no alternative schemes for farmers whose agri-environment commitments come to an end after 31 December 2013. There is a risk that these farmers will fall into a void, and therefore they should act now to examine their cash flow and, if necessary, find other sources of income.

    Difficult farming conditions during 2012 showed that well-designed environmental stewardship agreements do have a place on the modern farm. Not only can they protect important environmental features such as streams and rivers, they also provide agribusinesses with a guaranteed income.

    Farmers who do not currently have an agri-environment agreement, or who have any that are due to expire during 2013, should think carefully about renewing as there may not be another opportunity to do so until 2015. Those with agreements that expire during 2014 — particularly under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme — should discuss their options with their local Natural England representative as soon as possible.