24 August 2001

STEWARDSHIP?YES,BUT…

DEFRA is to launch parts of the Arable Stewardship

Scheme nationally. Louise Impey talked to a grower from

East Anglia who was involved in the pilot scheme and

Strutt and Parkers Matthew Ward about what it offers

GROWERS should welcome news that the most successful management options of the Arable Stewardship Scheme are to be made available on a national basis next year under an expanded Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

But DEFRAs decision to remove some of the piloted options and reduce the payments for others is disappointing and will limit uptake, says Matthew Ward of Strutt and Parker.

"The scheme, which was set up in 1998 and tested in East Anglia and the West Midlands, was developed to encourage farmers to manage their farms in ways which would benefit wildlife. Prelimi-nary results suggest that it has been successful.

"In the pilot, growers entered into a five-year agreement. They had to show that they were prepared to make worthwhile changes to their farming system and had the choice of 17 different management options," he says.

But, under the new proposals, these management options have been reduced to seven (see panel). All the under-sowing options have been removed, making it impractical for mixed farms to make rotational changes and use short-term grass leys on IACS registered land.

Also the timescale has been increased to 10 years, making the scheme less flexible. Fewer growers will be prepared or able to make that time commitment, especially tenants, notes Mr Ward.

Field margin options will be altered too, making them less management friendly. "In the pilot scheme these were based on average widths. But under the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme they have to be a fixed width of 6m."

Payment rates, which are still to be finalised, will be irrespective of regional variations, so there will be fewer uptakes from certain areas, says Mr Ward.

"Overwintered stubbles followed by a spring crop could be an attractive option for light land growers, especially where there is sugar beet in the rotation. All it would mean is that they would have to delay cultivations for a few weeks.

"But heavy land growers are going to be less impressed. Although they might look at the fallow option, it wont appeal if they have a grass weed problem. Nor will growing a low input spring crop."