Farmer Focus Arable: Nick Padwick amazed by agri-environmental scheme apathy

I recently attended a meeting with around 150 farmers with a programme of speakers covering ELS/HLS and CFE. I was amazed when a straw poll was taken as to how many people were involved in any sort of Agri-environmental scheme – only about half the hands went up.

How can any farm like ours at Stoughton not take advantage of the £30/ha under ELS? This makes no sense as the environmental and monetary benefits are a no-brainer.

Natural England recently held a meeting here at the farm, to update and inform us of changes and enhancements to the ELS scheme, and this made me think about the benefits we have seen on the ground.

We are in the middle of renewing our ELS scheme as our first five years are coming to a close. This has focused our attention on the changes we have made and whether they’ve made a difference. Without doubt there has been an increase in wildlife, and the estate looks more inviting and less intensive. But at the same time we do not seem to miss the areas taken out of production.

It had seemed quite easy, five years ago, to gain our 30 points/ha, but this time we are having to go further. The new technology, mapping yield performance on the farm, has made comparing areas that are consistently under-performing easier. This helps to show how they might fit into plans to create wildlife corridors, and also to work out if specific areas are actually generating any margin at all, or if they are just lowering the averages for the whole estate.

There are good opportunities incorporating agri-environment schemes into any farm business and I am full of enthusiasm as we prepare our HLS application because this allows points to turn into pounds.

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