Making best use of new agricultural policy schemes


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Changes in agricultural policy are gathering pace. The transition from Basic Payment Scheme to Environmental Land Management in England is now well underway, and new support schemes are set to start in Scotland and Wales in 2025.

Following the recent ‘relaunch’ of the SFI and with new applications now open, Agrovista Rural Consultancy is seeing a very positive engagement with the new scheme.

SFI offers the opportunity and flexibility to pick and mix actions and to vary areas of rotational options entered each year.

This gives much needed scope to enable the scheme to work alongside year-to year on-farm variances, writes Hamish Wardrop,  Agrovista’s national rural consultancy manager.

The first live agreements are now coming through and the quarterly payments will provide a valuable cash flow boost to many of our customers. 

We have now seen the additional actions which will be available later this year. Payments for no-till establishment and actions for precision farming will benefit many of our customers. In addition, new environmental options available through the combined environmental land management offer will allow many farms to provide further targeted environmental benefit alongside their farming operations.

Maintaining profitability

It is our job to help our customers make the most of these payments and ensure the best mix of actions is chosen for their farming system. This requires very careful consideration. In many cases overall levels of support will be lower than farms had been receiving under BPS, so it is essential that farms implement actions that can increase profitability. Taking advantage of grants to fund more efficient practice, providing environmental benefits on less productive areas and using actions which benefit soil health are all areas which can contribute to the overall resilience of a farming business.

Picking the right partner given what is at stake is essential.  Agrovista Rural Consultancy can draw on the necessary technical and business expertise required to fulfil those aims with an enviable track record in crop production, with more than 60 years of experience in the field. 

In addition, we have had a Rural Consultancy arm for the past 20 years offering an extensive range of services across all sectors of farming, with a particular emphasis on stewardship schemes, nutrient planning/compliance and grants.

Technical approach

Our agronomists can, in many cases, draw on years of cropping information, including mapping and yield data, which they can share with their Rural Consultancy colleagues. This gives us and our customers the information we need to decide together which options are most suitable and how we can incorporate these as seamlessly as possible into the farming business.

Agrovista is in the main a technical company, focused on growing crops as successfully and profitably as possible. We maintain this technical approach in choosing SFI actions that deliver an environmental benefit whilst complementing the productivity of the farm. Thanks to our comprehensive and well-established resources, we are well placed to do this. For example, Lamport AgX, Agrovista’s flagship trials site in Northamptonshire, has been carrying out and evaluating trials work for the past 13 years, including soil health, cultural weed control and alternative/reduced inputs, all of which are now key areas within agricultural policy.

This transition period presents both challenges and opportunity, and with the right advice, we believe farms can harness this new era, seeding improvements that can help boost a farm’s productivity and resilience.

Maximising SFI benefits

In order to extract the maximum benefit from SFI we believe that it is essential to fully embrace all of the actions rather than treating them as box-ticking exercises to attract a payment.

For example, providing multi species winter cover crops attracts a payment of £129/ha and, whilst most farms can implement this action for less than the payment rate, the real benefit comes from unlocking the soil health benefits which cover crops can provide if done correctly.

Another key example of this would be producing an Integrated Pest Management Plan (IPM1). This action attracts an annual payment of £1,129 per annum. Whilst the payment itself is attractive we encourage growers to use this opportunity to revisit modern IPM practices.

We look to apply IPM to all areas of production from the soil up, as growing healthy competitive crops is an essential part of process. With fertiliser use, our research programme has identified products and practices which can greatly reduce reliance on bagged fertiliser whilst maintaining yield and improving soil health.

Practices such as these not only provide considerable cost savings, but also have a positive environmental impact.

For more information, visit our Rural consultancy website area.