On the 27 July, the Government announced that farmers ‘will no longer have to comply with the so called greening requirements with effect from the 2021 scheme year’.
In essence this means that the requirement to maintain Crop Diversification (aka the two or three crop rule), Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) and Permanent Grassland in order to qualify for the 30% of the BPS payment attached to greening will cease to apply from the end of 2020.
However, we know that many of you take pride and enjoyment in your environmental management on farm, in particular your EFAs, so CFE is presenting you with options to consider for next year and beyond.
Plough ‘em all up!
Okay, this isn’t actually an option we would advocate, and you should be particularly careful if you have environmental management on farm funded through other mechanisms, such as Countryside Stewardship, which might be affected.
If you are considering bringing areas back into production, make sure you’ve taken the following into account:
- If they are buffer strips, field margins, fallow land or hedges and trees, did you put them in as EFA because the land was unproductive or difficult to farm?
- If so, is it worth the hassle and expense to bring that land back into the productive system?
- In the case of catch, cover and nitrogen-fixing crops; do you know whether and how much they might have improved your soil health or input requirements?
- Check your records, do some digging or soil testing and make sure you won’t be doing more harm than good by abandoning these practices.
- Are your EFAs providing other on-farm benefits which you don’t want to lose?
- Do they act as buffer strips between crops and water or woodland? If you have a shoot on farm, are they providing habitat for game birds? Will you lose that most valuable of assets, soil, through erosion without the EFAs?
Leave them to grow wild
Abandoning management might seem like an attractive option, and there is an ongoing debate as to the environmental benefits of ‘rewilding’, but we would advise caution with this approach too.
Time and money might be saved in the short-term, but the longer-term impact of unmanaged areas could see a reduction in both environmental and business benefits. Freedom from greening requirements around, for example, cutting dates and application of pesticide or fertiliser may mean that the management of your former EFA is easier, and you have more freedom to do environmental management which fits with your business; that’s the CFE way!
Manage them your way, with support from CFE
No doubt after 5+ years of Greening requirements, you’ll have a good idea of what environmental management works well on your land.
2021 is a year of opportunity to make the EFA options (buffer strips and field margins, catch crops, cover crops, nitrogen-fixing really work for your farm business. The 30% of BPS which would have been the Greening payment is safe guarded, giving you the freedom to experiment and get the most of your environmental measures.
You could start by considering what benefits the EFA offered and adapt your management to enhance these. If there is an insect (pollinator, pest-predator or just a personal favourite) which you would like more of on the farm? Try varying the species in your wildflower mixes to encourage it. The same can apply to farmland birds and seed mixes.
Have the Greening rules put you off trying something on farm? Perhaps you were worried that the establishment and retention dates for catch and cover crops might interfere with your productive operations. 2021 could be the year to try new management techniques and see what happens, with the security of the Greening payment already secured.
2021 could be an ideal time to trial environmental management techniques ahead of a Countryside Stewardship or future ELMs application.
With the withdrawal of BPS set to begin in 2021 and funding transferred to ELMs from 2024, the ‘freebie’ year of 2021 is a great opportunity to work out what future environmental management on your farm will look like.
Entry to Countryside Stewardship will remain open until 2024 and enrolled farmers will be able to transfer their management agreements into ELMs when it is launched. There will also be options to new agreements through ELMs, so now is a good time to start thinking about what this will mean for your business.
The future of environmental management on farm will look very different to the current Greening system and those who get ahead will be best placed to reap the rewards of “Public Money for Public Goods”.