Unlocking organic payments

Enrolling into the Organic Entry Level Stewardship scheme should be a “walk in the park” for most organic arable growers.

But, just as conventional growers are finding, getting correct Rural Land Registry maps is an uphill struggle.

“There’s an on-going issue with RLR maps, both with their accuracy and availability,” says Strutt & Parker’s Will Dobson.

“It is frustrating because any land you intend to enter into the scheme must be registered on the RLR before you submit your application.”

Even where maps are ready, there are other obstacles to entering, he notes.

“Growers with existing whole-farm Environment Sensitive Area agreements, or already receiving funds from either the Organic Aid Scheme or the Organic Farming Scheme, are not eligible for OELS.”

OELS is largely the same as Entry Level Stewardship.

“It’s a whole farm scheme, you can choose from a wide range of management options and you have to establish and meet a points target.”

Where the two schemes differ is that the OELS payment is double that of ELS at 60/ha.

Applicants are required to deliver 60 points worth of management options, but 30 points/ha are automatically received for the inherent environmental benefits delivered by organic farming.

If there’s a mix of organic and conventional land on the farm, then 60/ha is paid for the OELS eligible land and 30/ha for the ELS eligible land.

“But you submit one OELS application in this situation.

“In addition, some of the options available under ELS, such as conservation headlands, are not in OELS as they are inappropriate for organic systems.”

Land going into OELS must be registered as either fully organic or in conversion to organic farming with an Organic Inspection Body before an application being made.

A copy of a valid certificate of registration has to be submitted with the application.

Aid for converting land to organic is also available as a top-up to OELS payments, notes Mr Dobson.

“You have to be in your first year of conversion to qualify.

Payment rates are 175/ha a year for two years, so it’s well worth having.”

The options for boundary features – hedges and ditches – are proving most popular with organic arable producers, he says.

“They’re worth a lot of points and they have minimal impact on established cropping and rotations.”

Taking field corners out of production is another favourite.

“Again, the points are high and there are advantages to the grower.

Straightening out your boundaries simplifies things on most farms.”

Other good options are the ones covering low input grassland, he notes.

“The reasons are the same as before, but with the added attraction of being excellent wildlife habitats.”

As with ELS, most options can’t be located on set-aside land.

The exceptions are wild bird seed and pollen and nectar flower mixes, all the management plan options and the choices that include uncultivated buffer strips as part of hedge or ditch management.

Mr Dobson warns applicants to be careful with the under-sown cereals options.

“They may score well, but they do affect the entire rotation.

What’s more, OELS is a five-year agreement, so you will have to produce the same area year on year.

It ties you in to widespread changes.”