In November 2020 we saw the adoption of the Agriculture Act 2020 within the UK which set the parameters for the future direction of farming support and regulation. Whilst we are far away from the finished results of the transitional phase of policy development, work is continuing at pace. A number of schemes are now within the test and trial phase with early feedback now given by farmers. Themes continue to emerge and it appears that whilst things may be very different in the future, there will be opportunities for farmers to farm in a way which receives support and is in balance with the other key objectives outlined within the Act. I warn you now, we may all need to work harder for this support!
Whilst this new policy is developing there have been several key announcements which create more immediate opportunities for farms within England within the transitional period as follows:
Countryside Stewardship – Capital Grants
The provision of support for items which benefit the management of water and water quality which have been delivered by the hard-working Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers (CSFO’s) in High Water Quality target areas is set to be expanded to cover all farmland within England. It is thought that the work already undertaken within these areas have contributed to a 20% reduction in water quality incidents from farming activity. This key change will allow farmers who previously couldn’t access grants for water items such as roofing, concrete replacement, relocating sheep pens, sprayer washdown areas and other key water management items. It is very important to engage early with your local CSFO as this scheme has been extremely popular in previous application periods. Details are still emerging regarding this key change; however early rumours suggest that new areas will be able to access the same allowance of £20,000 per holding. There are also further suggestions that the grant rates for certain items will increase in line with recent cost rises within the industry. It may also be that the application window could launch as early as this Autumn and then continue a rolling basis allowing applications all year round. It may also be possible for farmers already in schemes or who have undertaken Capital Grants previously to seek further funding.
Farm Investment Fund
This fund will be split into two distinct offerings and be based on a smaller Faming Equipment and Technology Fund (FETF) and the Farming Transformational Fund (FTF). We have heard that the grants may launch in October and funding will be available as soon as applications can be processed.
The FETF could offer up to £25k per farm for items such as cattle/sheep handling pens, precision GPS equipment, livestock cameras, seed drills, dairy equipment and many more items on farm. This scheme is designed to help investment into farm businesses to improve productivity and will be a new development on the previously offered Countryside Productivity Small Grant (CPSG). Anyone who received funding under the CPSG should be able to access the new fund in full as this will be a distinctly different offering and not a fourth round of the previous scheme. Given the rise in funding amount (previously £12k/farm) it is expected that some large items maybe included within the grant offering and that all sectors will be supported more equally. I would encourage all farms to look at this scheme closely when launched and consider the impact of targeted investment for their business.
The FTF will be for a larger and more complicated investments which will make a transformational change to a farm business. It may include water storage, precision agriculture, robotic and automated technology and product processing equipment.
Other opportunities still in development or test and trial include the Slurry Investment Fund and the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which includes the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery Fund and Landscape Recovery Fund. In some area it is possible to access these schemes and help to develop and shape the future roll out of the schemes to other farmers.
With things moving at significant pace, it is easy to lose track of the direction of travel and possible to miss immediate opportunities for your business. I work closely with my clients to understand their businesses fully so we can help alert them to any funding which may be available. I feel the transitional period will offer options to all farmers to seek funding to help develop their business to be more resilient and more profitable and I would encourage you to engage and make the most of what could come your way. This will put your business in the best possible place when direct support is fully removed from the system. I have faith in my farming clients to continue to adapt and evolve to the significant changes which lie ahead and embrace opportunities with both hands.