2023 is the final year during which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will provide farmer payments under the existing Basic Payments Scheme (BPS), which is being wound down as part of plans to introduce new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes from 2027.
From 2024, BPS will be replaced by so-called delinked payments, which will be based on a farmer’s average BPS payments during the 2020 to 2022 scheme years, with direct payments also being phased out.
This is why proving their eligibility for the 2023 BPS would be particularly important for farmers, who would wish to continue receiving payments in 2024 and beyond.
- Delinked payments can be paid out even if a farmer stops farming.
- These payments will be based on a 'reference amount', which will be the average BPS payments made to a business for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 scheme years. The reference amount will only cover entitlements in England.
- But farmers must claim, and be eligible for, BPS payments in 2023 to receive delinked payments for 2024 to 2027.
- Delinked payments will be gradually phased out between 2025 to 2027, which means farmers will receive a smaller proportion of the reference amount.
“Cross compliance will end after the 2023 scheme year and will not apply to delinked payments, although the vast majority of strong legal standards for the environment and animal health and welfare will continue and these will be enforced in a fair and proportionate way,” the Rural Payment Agency, which manages the payments on behalf of Defra, said in a statement.
“We will work with farmers to get it right and give them a chance to self-correct before taking stronger action, for example by increasing the use of warning letters, where appropriate, rather than immediately defaulting to payment penalties.”
How to apply for BPS
To apply for the 2023 scheme, farmers need to register or update their details on the Rural Payments service. Applications can be completed online or via post or email, and must be submitted no later than 11:59pm BST on May 15, 2023.
Payments will be made in two instalments – an advance payment of around 50% of the claim value from August 1; and a balance payment from December 1. The eligibility criterion includes being a farmer that produces, rears or grows ag products, and have at least 5ha of land. For guidance, visit Defra's online portal.
Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship
While BPS provides the largest portion of rural payments, English farmers can also apply for the Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) schemes. Here, the Rural Payment Agency has introduced a ‘more straightforward’ annual declaration to make it easier for applicants, who had previously applied, to do so again without having to complete the full application forms.
Under CS, farmers will receive payments for carrying out targeted actions relating to specific locations, features and habitats. There will be an extra incentive through CS Plus for land managers to join up across local areas to deliver bigger and better results. According to Defra, there are currently around 40,000 agreements in place for CS and ES, covering more than a third of England’s farmland. Defra’s targeting 70,000 agreements by 2028, covering 70% of ag land.
On why farmers should consider applying for CS, the Rural Payment Agency stated:
"Signing up to a CS agreement now will put you in the best possible position to join future schemes. It will also give you a viable, long-term source of income for providing environmental benefits as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments are reduced.
“All new CS agreement holders will be able to terminate the agreement early without penalty (at agreed points) provided any new agreement delivers equivalent or greater levels of environmental outcomes.”
CS is made up of 8 grants, including capital grants, which are based on three-year agreements and target specific environmental improvements, such as improving air and water quality. There are also grants to support long-term projects, such as the woodland management plan grants, which offer a one-off payment for land managers to create a 10-year woodland management plan.
These grants and more are now open, with more details including a ‘grant finder’ tool, available from Defra.
To get paid under the Environmental Stewardship scheme, agreement holders will receive a claim form by post or email and must complete the form and provide any supporting documents by 11:59pm BST on May 15, 2023.
For more information on how to complete the form, visit the guidance page.