WITH only three months to go before many Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) agreements come to an end, hill farmers are being urged to apply for the new Uplands Entry Level Scheme (UELS).
The transition will not be automatic, farmers must act now to make sure they don't have a gap in payments.
It may have been up to 10 years since many farmers last made an environmental scheme application, so they need to ensure that they are up to speed in terms of the application requirements as the new UELS is very different from the current ESA.
Farmers must work on their applications now as they need to be submitted by the end of February to ensure their new UELS agreement starts on May 1.
Failure to meet the deadline will result in delayed payments and loss of income.
The new scheme is open to all holdings with a basic area-based payment of £62 per hectare (payment for land parcels larger than 15 hectares about the Moorland line will be £23 and for land outside the SDA, £30).
To apply for a new agreement farmers should do two things:
1. Map all features of environmental interest, such as hedges, walls, ditches, archaeological features, in-field trees, traditional farm buildings, ponds and woodlands.
2. Select enough options to qualify for the scheme by reaching the required points target .
It is this points target, based on land area, that is likely to cause the most difficulty when completing an application.
As long as the target is met, a farm is guaranteed an agreement but in our experience this can be quite difficult in practice.
It's vital that the right options are selected so that any agreement does not have an adverse impact on your farming business.
How easy it is to reach the points target depends very much on the farm. Most can get there without making significant changes to their existing practice, but this is not true of all.
It has definitely become more difficult since changes were introduced to the scheme on January 1 as part of the Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME) initiative.
The best options for upland farms are likely to include:
1. Dry stone wall maintenance, but only complete walls can be used.
2. Low input grassland management is possible where less than the equivalent of 2cwt per acre of 20:10:10 fertiliser is used each year.
3. Haymaking,- as long as fields are cut for hay or haylage after July 5.
4. Cattle grazing. 30% of livestock units (recorded on a field-by-field basis) need to be cattle to qualify.
5. Hedgerow management, cutting every two or three years.
Once you have the necessary information, an application can be submitted using a paper form or the on-line system. However, given the difficulties outlined, we would advise seeking impartial advice before you finalise the application.
David Morley, environmental adviser at H&H Land and Property
Farmers must work on their applications now as they need to be submitted by the end of February