ENTERING THE soon-to-be-launched Entry Level environmental scheme successfully is simple, says farm management adviser Paul Harper, who put a 600ha (1482-acre) split-site mixed farm at Mortimer, Berkshire through the pilot scheme in 2003.

But growers with advanced Countryside Stewardship schemes already running on their farms may struggle to obtain enough points to enter ELS immediately, the Ray Gasson consultant comments.

Initially cynical, Mr Harper expected the scheme to be time consuming, complicated and onerous. “Actually, it was simple. There was just one straightforward form to complete each January. Even better, payment took just six weeks to come through.”

Most time consuming was completing the initial farm environment record, a statement of all the environmental features on the farm. “It was compulsory, but worth five points a hectare. It took me three days going around the farm to map things like mature hedgerow trees, in-field trees, watercourses, hedges and stonewalls. If you have good knowledge of the farm you could do it from the kitchen.” Good farm maps, preferably digital, help.

Once the form is completed, ask four questions, he suggests. “What are you doing already? What are you supposed to be doing, but aren’t? What is not going to be too onerous? How do I make up the remaining points?”

Exploit what is already being done, he advises. “Things like in-field trees or permanent pasture are free points. And filling in crop protection, nutrition, manure and soil plans were worth two points a hectare in the pilot scheme. That’s easy.”

Options that will help management, such as over-wintered stubbles, are good choices, he suggests. “Also make sure you use the scheme to enhance the environment, that is what it is there for.”

But growers with “Rolls-Royce” Countryside Stewardship schemes already running could struggle to hit the ELS’s 30 points/ha target, since features will not be paid for twice, he notes.

Financially, the scheme is well worthwhile, he stresses. “The benefit to the farm after 4.4ha of IACS claims lost through field margins and the cost of seed for the margins was 16,200 a year.”

That is 27/ha on the whole farm area. “But don”t forget woodland and the like need parcel numbers to be included in the scheme.” mike.abram@rbi.co.uk