Environmental Farming Scheme Now Open

Friday, 7 September, 2018

Commodity Watch

Tranche 2 of the Wider Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) is now open for applications and will close on 21 September 2018.  The EFS is funded through the NI Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.  A budget of around £100 million was allocated to this part of the programme with the majority of this funding coming from the EU however, the UK Treasury has given a guarantee that all agreements signed before the end of 2020 will be fully funded.  The UFU would encourage all farmers to take a look at the scheme and to consider applying. 

The Environmental Farming Scheme has three levels;

Wider – for land outside designated areas (currently open for applications)
Higher – primarily for designated sites (tranche 2 opened earlier this year)
Group – to support farmers working together in specific area (this will open separately)

While many farmers have been involved in agri-environment schemes in the past such as the CMS and the NICMS, this scheme has some key differences.  Successful applicants to the EFS will be offered a 5 year agreement and unlike previous schemes this is not a ‘whole-farm’ scheme therefore, farmers can select just some parts of the farm under the wider scheme (those applying to the higher scheme must submit all land classified as ‘higher’).  Farmers will not have the same level of contact with a DAERA Countryside Management Branch adviser as in previous schemes but the wider scheme is simpler and therefore less help should be necessary. 

In the wider scheme there are just 20 general options available for farmers to choose from making it much simpler than previous agri-environmental schemes in addition to some ‘non-productive investments’ which are basically capital items to help deliver some of the options.  There are also stand-alone options such as organic, woodland and native breeds that can be applied for.  Up to 4 general options can be selected with the minimum wider agreement at £2500 over the duration of the 5 years up to £12,500 for a farm less than 25ha increased by £12.67/ha for each additional hectare over 25 ha up to a maximum of £20,000 over 5 years.  The UFU have highlighted to DAERA that only very large farms will be able to reach the maximum £20,000 and during the last tranche some farmers had to reduce the amount of work they wished to do due to this cap being imposed.  The UFU have been lobbying DAERA to revise this for any future tranches.

One of the most popular options applied for in EFS Tranche 1 was the watercourse stabilisation with fencing, this also allows for the provision of drinkers and pipework.  This option helps protect waterways (including sheughs) by excluding livestock.  As with all the EFS options there are specific conditions that must be met and fences and posts must meet a certain standard to be eligible. 

Farmers are advised to not over-committee in terms of fencing and other options as there is a reasonably short window to get the work done and all must be done in year 1 of the agreement.  As with all schemes, penalties can be applied if works are not carried out or are not carried out to the appropriate standard, therefore when applying farmers should think carefully as to what options work for them and what they will be able to manage and complete within the timelines specified by DAERA. 

To be eligible for the scheme farmers must have 3 ha of eligible land, have management control (claiming BPS) of the land and be prepared to meet the various requirements such as meeting cross-compliance and greening, complete training and keep records.

All applications for the EFS must be done online.  The UFU highlighted concerns around this policy and DAERA have taken steps to assist those who may have problems with working online.

The EFS sounds complex however the online application is relatively straightforward and will show which options are available in each field on a farm.  The application window closes on the 21 September 2018 so the UFU would suggest that if interested, farmers start considering their options now and don’t leave this to the last minute.  Agri-environment schemes have delivered for both the farmer and the environment is the past and the UFU would encourage farmers to get online and see what options are available to their farm business.