Farming News - Rural Payments Agency Announce Changes to Payment Rates in Countryside Stewardship

Rural Payments Agency Announce Changes to Payment Rates in Countryside Stewardship

The RPA has announced a significant rise, of 30% on average, in the payment rates available in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. With the amended rates, the Government hopes to encourage more applications to a scheme that has been undersubscribed since its launch in 2015. The new payment rates also reflect some of the cost increases being felt by farmers who deliver environmental benefits on their land.

Here David Morley, Head of Conservation & Environment for Harrison & Hetherington Land & Estates gives his views and analysis.

“The best news is that payment increases will not only apply to new agreements starting in 2023 but will also be applied to all existing agreements that started on or before 1st January 2022. As with all Government announcements, however, the devil is in the detail. Some options see a huge rise in payments whilst, for others, payments will actually be reduced. Thankfully, any reductions will only apply to new agreements starting in 2023 and will not be applied to existing agreements.

One of the biggest percentage increases will be welcomed by upland farmers. The payment rate for option GS5 – Low Input Grassland Management in SDA – rises from a paltry £16 per ha to a more enticing £71 per ha. For upland farmers that can manage their land with few inputs, this could finally make Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship worth applying for. Option UP2 – Rough Grazing for Birds – is also increased from £88 to £110 per ha, while the Higher Tier UP3 Moorland Management option rises from £43 to £51 per ha.

However, it is not all good news. The GS15 Haymaking Supplement, often partnered with GS5 in traditionally managed upland hay meadows, is being reduced from £85 to £37 per ha. This seems an odd move if the Government is serious about retaining our depleted stock of hay meadows.

The importance of native cattle grazing in delivering high quality environmental management in a variety of important habitats is recognised in the increase in the SP8 Native Breeds at Risk Supplement (Higher Tier). Payments rise by over 50% from £94 to £142 per ha. However, the standard SP6 Cattle Grazing Supplement, which can be used in conjunction with a variety of Mid and Higher Tier options, falls from £45 to £39 per ha for new agreements.

Organic farmers will be pleased to see that most payment rates for organic management are significantly increased, particularly those for enclosed rough grazing, unimproved grassland, and rotational land. The exception is the payment rate for improved grassland, which is halved from £40 to £20 per ha.

For farmers with arable land, it is a mixed bag. There are increases of 10-17% in many of the popular options, including AB1 – Nectar Flower Mix, AB16 – Autumn-sown Bumblebird Mix and AB8 – Flower Rich Margins. A £59 per ha increase to £554 means option AB7 – Wholecrop Spring Cereals – remains one of the most attractive options in the Scheme for mixed farms growing wholecrop for cattle feed.

In contrast, the standard AB2 – Over-wintered Stubbles option is reduced by nearly a third to £58 per ha, making the option now barley worthwhile. AB14 Low Input Cereals is also reduced by £30 per ha, which seems a strange move if the Government wants to encourage lower fertilise use in arable farming.

Finally, in a blow to mixed arable/livestock farmers, the AB13 – Brassica Fodder Crop option will no longer be available for new agreements starting in 2023. This is probably due to issues with soil erosion that can arise if this option is located in the wrong place, but it is disappointing, nonetheless.

The full list of changes to payment rates can be found

Overall, the changes to CS payment rates seem to be a positive step and will hopefully encourage more farmers to look at Countryside Stewardship to help them farm in an environmentally sustainable way. As always, however, it is critical to get the right advice for your farm business.'