feasible substitute

17 December 1999

Schemes seen as a

feasible substitute

WITH annual expenditure on Countryside Stewardship schemes set to quadruple over the next seven years, farmers who have already had applications turned down because of a lack of available funds will be keen to try again.

For Cumbrian farmer Stephen Brockbank, the decision to reroute farm subsidy money into this and other agri-environment schemes is a cause for optimism.

He has had applications turned down in the past two years, but is keen to take advantage of the scheme, even though the money he would receive is unlikely to cover the gradual erosion of direct payment, starting with the 2.5% cut in 2001.

"It will make very little difference to the farms income, but joining the scheme will enhance the value of the place by what it offers in terms of conservation," he said.

"The scheme also has a positive effect on public perceptions of farming and the way farm subsidy money is spent."

Payments under the CSS are a combination of annual payments for land management and capital payments for one-off items such as pond construction and hedgerow restoration. A whole-farm approach is promoted.

Westward Park, near Wigton, and Heathfield, near Aspatria, make up the Brockbank familys 525ha (1300-acre) enterprise, which includes 200ha (500 acres) of cereals, 1250 ewes and 33 suckler cows. The conservation work that Mr Brockbank is so keen to see carried out – for example, to prevent erosion around the stream that runs through Westward Park – would be difficult to fund from the income generated by farming alone.

For Mr Brockbank, the CSS could provide the money for putting a fence along the stream and planting willow trees on riverbank, as well as improving hedges and putting 6m and 2m (20ft and 6.5ft) boundaries, including beetle banks, around arable fields to protect wildlife in the hedgerows.

He also wants to put some land in for lowland pasture management, for which he will receive about £85/ha for not using artificial fertilisers and pesticides and limiting stocking density.

In all, £580m will be pumped into the CSS over the next seven years and, by 2006/7, there will be £128m in the annual pot, compared with the 1999/2000 level of £29m.

This will help farmers like Mr Brockbank, according to Cumbria Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group conservation adviser, Ian Wrigley, who helped him put together his previous applications to MAFF. This year there were 98 applications in Cumbria, of which 65 were recommended for agreement.

"There were a number of reasons for applications failing, including a lack of money in the pot, particularly for large applications. The extra money will certainly reduce competition among applicants," he said.

And he added that interest in the scheme in Cumbria came from all sizes and types of farm, although he agreed that some farmers were in a much better position than others to take advantage of it. Much depends on the effect on productivity of implementing measures under the scheme.

In a survey he had carried out on a lowland dairy farm, it became apparent the farmer would lose as much on suckler cow subsidy if he introduced a field boundary, than he would gain in payments for doing so. But other applicants have come up with sound economic reasons for becoming part of the CSS.

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