1 March 2002

Stewardship schemes are at farmers expense

Members of the Association

of Independent Crop

Consultants and the British

Institute of Agricultural

Consultants gathered for an

environmental conference at

IACR Rothamsted last week.

Andrew Swallow reports

COUNTRYSIDE Stewardship will cost most farms more than it makes and lead to a polarisation of production.

That is the warning Brown and Cos Philip Dunn put to a meeting of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants and British Institute of Agricultural Consultants in Herts last week.

On a typical 200ha (500 acre) family arable farm a successful Countryside Stewardship Scheme application would have a net cost of £1448 to set up and take £3478 a year off the profit and loss account, he says. "What I have a problem with is it would appear the real cost of stewardship is to the farmer. You need to look at exactly what is involved and what it will cost on each farm."

Capital investment in scheme options such as fencing, ditch restoration, pond creation, and hedge and tree planting, is rarely covered by payments unless farm labour is used for all the work and farmers must ask themselves could that labour be doing something else, he says.

But such work can be reflected in increased value of the farm. "It is fine if this investment is transferred to the balance sheet, but if not it is a net cost."

Annual income parts of the schemes, including the new arable options, also seem set to cut income on typical winter combinable crop farms achieving average wheat yields of 8.1t/ha (3.3t/acre) or above.

What is more, the scheme requires a 10-year commitment and there is no guarantee payments will be maintained or, should arable profits rise, be increased. Hence the opportunity cost of non-production could go up.

Overhead costs may be cut by reduced cropping but hedges, ponds and woodland will incur a maintenance cost, IACS income may be foregone, as will grain income due to reduced volume and possibly reduced quality.

"There are opportunities in these schemes, but you have to know the financial implications," he concludes. &#42

&#8226 200ha (500 acre) winter combinables farm.

&#8226 Average wheat yield 8.1t/ha.

&#8226 CSS package including: 200m hedge, 400m ditch restoration, 1000sq m pond, 200 trees, 1000m fence, 4ha (10 acres) of 6m margins, 5ha (12.5 acres) arable reversion, 20ha (50 acres) spring crop, 16ha (40 acres) conservation headland, 4ha (10 acres) over-wintered stubble followed by fallow.

&#8226 Net capital cost £1448.

&#8226 Annual profit and loss deficit £3473.

&#8226 Does it boost balance sheet?

Legislate to break sales link

Legislations should be introduced to break the supply and advice link in agrochemical sales, says Warks-based AICC-member Nick Forman. "One of the first things government needs to do is look at agrochemical usage and ask how it got there. Was it advised or sold?" Some states in the US have legislated to break that supply and advice link, he notes. "It is one of the biggest problem areas leading to unnecessary use. An agronomist cant work for two masters."