Cash for countryside custodians
Cash for countryside custodians

THERE is a wide range of activities that are part of the business of farming which qualify for grant applications.

The Countryside Productivity Small Grant Scheme (CPSGS) offers a grant of up to 40 per cent for one or more items, costing between £7,500 and £30,000.

CPSGS is open to all farmers, explains Holly Story, a consultant with land and property specialist, GSC Grays. A wide range of qualifying investments covering livestock, arable and agricultural and horticultural sectors can be included in an application.

“The first round of the CPSGS opened last year and proved highly popular,” says Miss Story.

“Examples included handling systems for cattle, sheep and pigs; electronic livestock identification equipment, and slurry systems. On arable farms, claims were made for precision farming kit.”

For the CPSGS, there is no requirement to obtain multiple quotations for products, she adds. Instead, each item has been allocated a standard fixed price.

The 2019 hand book has not yet been released, but last year’s version is still available online.

“In some instances, the opening of the scheme led to a spike in orders for certain products, so farmers need to be sure that they receive the equipment within the 150-day requirement.

“No date has yet been announced for the opening of the scheme for 2019, but we expect it to be launched later this spring.

“I would advise interested farmers to monitor the web page or talk to an agent to make sure that a potential good opportunity is not missed.”

Meanwhile, take-up of the new Countryside Stewardship schemes does not seem to have increased, despite new ‘simplified’ offers being launched last year.

Although they may appear attractive at first glance, some of the new offers have significant drawbacks and do not cover capital item expenditure, Miss Story added.

Producers who have applied for Countryside Stewardship are strongly advised against making any investment before the scheme start date, particularly for capital works.

“The rules on capital items state that only invoices that are dated after the agreement has been signed will be accepted as part of a claim,” she stressed.

“This is relevant on a livestock farm with proposals for dry stone walling or planting new hedgerows, and to farmers and land managers in Catchment Sensitive Areas who have applied for support for water quality items, such as renewing concrete yards or covering slurry tanks.

“Some of the proposed work for the environmental schemes is timely, and if farmers feel they need to start a project before their paperwork has arrived, they should always consult with Natural England or with their agent, beforehand,” she said.

Many of the Countryside Stewardship options, including the sowing of wild bird food mixtures and flower-rich margins, have a 12-month establishment period.

These can be implemented this spring, or even after harvest 2019 in the case of autumn-sown mixes.

On arable farms, the Wildlife Offer could suit those who do not require support for capital works. But some livestock farmers have been discouraged to find the grassland options included in the Pastoral Offer may be uneconomical.

Miss Story said: “For example, no supplementary feeding is permitted on fields under certain options, including the very low input grassland option.

“This can make it difficult to manage ewes around lambing time. The majority of my clients need to use every acre of pasture at that time of year, and of course feeding is essential; even if it is only for a matter of weeks.

“The Countryside Stewardship scheme must be attractive to farmers and the level of support must cover the associated costs.

“A new pilot scheme which pays farmers by results rather than specific management prescription is being trialled.

It involves a variety of targets being identified, with farmers given guidance on how they might be achieved. Payment is associated with measurable improvements in habitats and farm biodiversity over the agreement duration.

There have been also been signs that future funding might support collaborative projects between several farmers or landowners on adjacent holdings, to meet shared environmental objectives.

“If the new scheme payments are attractive and if the scheme offers a more straightforward delivery, it could generate fresh interest in environmental management.”