During the Oxford Farming conference, Farming Minister Mark Spencer announced that capital payment rates, which cover one-off projects, will increase by an average of 48% from the 1 January.
This includes CS Mid and Higher Tier agreements. From the same date the new payment rates come into effect for FiPL (Farming in Protected Landscape) agreements.
However, this does mean those with older agreements are left with some difficult choices to make. The NFU has called for the capital payment increase to be applied retrospectively but it appears unlikely that this will happen for older agreements.
Changing agreements which started before January 2023
If your CS or SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive) pilot agreement began in 2022 or earlier, you do have the option to withdraw part of the agreement, e.g. individual capital works, or to withdraw the whole agreement and reapply.
When deciding whether to making a change to an existing agreement you should consider several factors including the offers currently available.
Key factors to consider:
CS Standalone Capital Grant Offer
There is a standalone CS Capital Grant offer available with a rolling application window. These are three-year agreements.
Capital Grant agreements offer capital items that deliver environment outcomes within four groups: boundaries, trees and orchards; water quality; air quality; and natural flood management. There are 70 options available.
The NFU helped to secure the removal of funding limits for Capital Grant groups, meaning there is no longer a limit on either the maximum amount for a Capital Grant application, or the amount you can apply for in each of the four groups.
The Higher Tier capital grant offer is a new additional offer which provides a selection of specialist Higher Tier capital items to help support environmental benefits for land already in a CS or ES/HLS agreement. There are 20 capital items, with applications open all year.
For both types of capital grant scheme:
- The CS Capital Grants do not cover any capital works done (or materials ordered) before the agreement starts.
- You can enter land parcels in an existing CS Mid or Higher Tier agreement into a CS Capital Grants agreement only if all capital works in your CS Mid or Higher Tier agreement have been fully completed and paid for.
- You can only apply for one CS Capital Grants agreement per SBI in any calendar year.
- You need to source any relevant endorsements or consents (e.g., SSSI consents).
All applications for capital grants will be treated the same. The RPA will go through the full application procedures and checks, even where this is a resubmission.
CS Mid and Higher Tier Offer for 2024
The CS Higher Tier application window has now closed. CS Mid Tier applications remain open until 18 August.
If an application is successful, the agreement will start on 1 January 2024. More information on Countryside Stewardship 2023/24 can be found here: Information on Countryside Stewardship 2023/24
As CS is being taken forward under ELMs (Environmental Land Management schemes), changes will be made to improve delivery, e.g. improvements to the application system, before it opens for applications. Additional options will also be added to the current offer.
If you do choose to withdraw from an existing agreement with a view to re-applying, you would be applying in the same pool as other people applying for CS 2024 at your own risk.
CSFO (Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer) Approval
There are some options that require CSFO approval before they can be included in an application. In response to a query, the NFU has been informed that if applications are withdrawn and re-submitted in order to benefit from the updating of the payment rates:
- Applicants can re-submit their previous CSF approval with the new application, providing no changes have been made that alter the basis of the approval.
- CS applications already submitted and approved will not be re-approved in the event of a new approval being required Natural England has said. Unless they can see a positive environmental justification for the change.
Under the current terms and conditions there is no such thing as a penalty.
However, there could be repayments where a breach is found. The assumption is that you are withdrawing a capital item against which no claims have been submitted, so there should be no repayments due.
If the capital items you propose to withdraw relate to a Higher Tier or forestry agreement you are advised to check with the adviser who helped prepare the agreement.
Timescales for withdrawing capital items and re-applying
To prevent you from being funded twice for the same action, the RPA will need to process any requests for changes before you can reapply. Then you will be able to reapply in the next application window.
Farming in protected landscapes
If you are in a National Park or AONB (Areas of Natural Beauty) then you will have access to grants through the FiPL (Farming in Protected Landscapes) scheme.
The payment rates align with CS. Please contact your scheme administrators for more information.
Issuing of new payments
As a new Defra policy, the RPA needs time to update the underpinning IT for the payments system. Consequently, there is a chance that initial payments made to existing agreement holders that benefit from the higher payment rates will be made at the old lower rate.
If this happens the RPA will issue a top up later. This solution is better than holding payments back until the IT is updated.