Countryside Stewardship and Grant Funding Update

Farmers and land managers have until 31st July 2019 to apply for Mid-Tier stewardship schemes, whilst those applying for Higher Tier have until 3rd May 2019, to complete their application.

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Key diary dates for the current schemes are:

Higher Tier (18th Feb to 3rd May 2019 application window)

Mid Tier (18th Feb to 31st July 2019 application window)

Wildlife Offers (18th Feb to 31st July 2019 application window)

Hedgerow & Boundaries (18th Feb to 3rd May 2019 application window)

Tree Health (open for applications all year)

Woodland Management Plans (open for applications all year)

Woodland Creation (open for applications all year)

15th May 2019 – CS/ES revenue claims deadline (without penalty).

31st May 2019 – deadline for making certain changes to a submitted CS/ES revenue claim without penalty submitted before 15th May 2019.

The Brexit waters are still muddied, but we do know that as things stand, the current Basic Payment Scheme will be phased out with funding for environmental benefits and public goods at the front of the new agricultural policy. At Arthey Associates we strongly encourage our customers to make use of entering Countryside Stewardship agreements now, to be well-placed to benefit from the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) system, which is due to be introduced 2024/2025. This will follow three years of piloting the new system nationally.

You can view all of the CS/ES deadlines here and for help with submitting your application, please speak to Tom on tom@artheyassociates.co.uk or 07748 295448.

All Rural Development Grant Programs are currently closed to new applications except for community and charitable initiatives. Many of these grant schemes, such as the Growth Programme, Countryside Productivity Scheme, and local LEADER grant programme are unlikely to reopen on the same basis as before, as most funds have now been allocated. There is the possibility that grant application windows will open for small grants such as the Countryside Productivity Small Grant scheme to allocate any remaining funds. If you would like to be specifically notified when any grant scheme windows open, please complete the form below:

Planning for a dry summer – forage crops and grassland

Local agronomist, Neil Woolliscroft, shares his advice on planning for a dry summer.

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Forage stocks coming out of Winter 2018 were low to non-existent and low reserves continue to be a concern as we head into Summer 2019.  There has been some success however with those growers who took a little risk and established new grass seeds last autumn and are currently in the process of taking a large first cut.  So what can be done to improve your prospects of a higher return from your land?

·         Always start with the basics; up to date soil analysis particularly checking the pH status with adequate P and K.

·         How long has your grass ley been down – is the ley predominated by weedy and low output species?

·         Are weeds competing with your pasture or hindering establishment of your ley?  There are many herbicide products offering cost effective solutions to weed control.

·         Nitrogen delivers the best return on investment. Are you correctly implementing a nitrogen management plan?

Both livestock and arable farms should be looking at opportunities from neighbouring farms and how their farming enterprises could complement each other. Combinable crop farms continue to battle with blackgrass and many would gladly give up growing OSR – grass leys or forage maize offer a valuable break to the arable farmer. For the livestock farmer, grass re-seeds have become more difficult since the revocation of chlorpyrifos leading to uncontrolled wireworm and leatherjackets.  Combinable crops grown between re-seeds would offer a valuable break. 

Incorporating forage crops into an arable crop rotation is not as scary as you may think! Many growers are already using spring cereals to combat autumn germinating blackgrass.  A crop such as stubble turnips established after a winter cereal harvest offers a cheap source of overwinter feed for grazing.  Many arable farmers are also growing overwinter cover crops ahead of spring sown cash crops. The best cover crops are those that can be utilised with the nutrients returned to the field via grazing!  Growing maize in rotation with combinables can be made a success. Recent breeding developments have meant many varieties are now sufficiently early maturing, and without yield penalty, to enable wheat to be easily established in October. 

Try not to focus solely on your own farms limitations and consider what opportunities for mutual benefit exist in your locality.

Diversification Focus

According to a Defra survey, almost two thirds of all UK farms include diversification enterprises that contribute vital income streams to the core farming business. These can range from small-scale contracting services, through to public facing farm shops and visitor attractions.

One thing that most diversification enterprises need is a public profile to make sure would-be customers and clients are aware of your existence. If you are about to look beyond the farm gates, Arthey Associates’ marketing and PR consultant Amy, advises on how to get your new venture off to the best start.

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Whether you are starting a contracting company, building a café at the end of the farm drive or even selling boxes of farm produce locally, strongly communicating the added value of your brand is integral to success.

“Diversifying your farm business with an ‘added value’ enterprise is nothing new to farmers and landowners, but now more than ever we must emphasise the benefits to the consumer. If you are selling direct to consumers, your brand must appeal to shoppers that are increasingly prioritising food provenance, animal welfare and a quality-over-quantity attitude to food,” says Amy.

Amy continues: “Even away from fresh produce, value is no longer just price orientated, with customer experience, welfare, company ethics and heritage, being important factors in consumer decisions, whether that’s who is going to bale your straw this year or buy your sausages. Some consumers also like to ‘show-off’ to peers that they buy respected brands with these priorities in mind.”

With recent Ofcom research showing that British adults spend an average of a whole day each week online, the opportunities to showcase your brand and how it can enhance consumers’ lives on social media, blogs and websites are endless.

We have put together our top tips to help your rural brand get its value messaging across to a targeted audience in an increasingly challenging market:

1) Identify your target audience and their priorities. Your product may be more directed to mums, ‘foodies’, B2B farming customers or city dwellers looking for a taste of the country. Whatever your market, it is important to understand what drives them to buy. Follow key influencers on Instagram and twitter, and join relevant groups on Facebook. Anything that can help you get a gauge of what drives their shopping decisions and is ‘on trend’ all helps form your plan of attack.

2) Formulate a brand strategy. Regardless of your product and who you are trying to reach, it’s important to have a brand strategy and stick to it. This must be true to your products or services and easily communicated – if you need any help on this, get the experts involved! A marketing and communications consultant is a business investment but will help create a brand that can be believed and maintained, and give you a clear plan of attack.

3) Ensure that you have a working and up to date website and social media platform. Once you know your target audience and what drives them, make sure that you have a good website and presence on Facebook, twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Shoppers expect a digital offering from brands and it is a cheap way to communicate your brand on a daily basis. Be consistent with posts to communicate your brand values and constantly review your content.

4) Invest in social media advertising. The growth of social media advertising is astronomical, with a 14.3% year on year rise in online advertising in 2017. All social media platforms offer easy-to-use paid-for advertising options, with budgets from just a few pounds, and tools to really hone and hit a targeted audience. It is also worth getting in touch with key influencers within your audience; if you want to increase sales to families in Rutland, get in touch with a Rutland lifestyle blogger to see if they will do a review of your product on their site. You may have to pay them for it, but influencers are well respected by their followers, so an advert with them is usually good value for money.

If you need any support in the best course of action for your business, you can contact Amy Woolliscroft today for a no obligation chat amy@artheyassociates.co.ukor 07858 656444.

 

 

Planning Update

For farming and rural businesses, the distinction between agricultural and equestrian uses of land and buildings is often difficult to separate, but this can have implications in planning terms if not managed correctly. Tom Arthey, director at Arthey Associates, explains more.

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Diversifying in to equestrian uses is an attractive and relatively cost-effective way to bring in non-farming income streams. The industry has seen huge growth over the last two decades, and is estimated to be worth nearly £6 billion in the UK and Ireland, employing nearly 85,000 either directly or in related industries, and is home to nearly one million horses.

Farms and landowners often have underutilized grassland and buildings well suited to conversion to provide all the needs for a horse and its expectant rider, be it DIY livery, riding school or training establishments.

Whilst you won’t need planning permission to just provide horse grazing (but may need a change of use to horse grazing if no agricultural work takes place), in most instances you will need to apply for planning consent if you are converting or erecting buildings for stabling, exercise arenas or for other training facilities such as event courses.

As part of a planning application, consideration also has to be given to access requirements and traffic movements. An access suitable for occasional agricultural vehicles may not be so appropriate for access by several livery owners visiting two or three times a day. Similarly, it is important to think about how a working farmyard and equestrian use can sit side by side. Large and noisy agricultural machinery, a lively horse, and a novice rider don’t often make easy bedfellows!

Aside from the planning requirements, it is also really important to make sure that Basic Payment Scheme and Countryside Stewardship Scheme requirements are not breached, and that tax implications have been considered, particularly business rates, which are not usually applicable to agricultural property.

Arthey Associates have expertise in equestrian business advisory and planning matters, advising equestrian businesses and private horse owners through the planning process. For more information, or a no-obligation enquiry, please contact us or fill in the following form:

Rural Payments Agency – key dates and notes

The BPS application opens this week (13th March), whilst you can now add land to your holding via ruralpayments@defra.gov.uk with the email subject as ‘BPS 2019 Add Land’ – replacing the need for the old paper BP5 or Continuation booklet. When RPA have completed your request to add land they will confirm with an email.

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13th March 2019 – BPS application and entitlement transfer window opens.

4th May 2019 – deadline for adding land to your holding for 2019 application.

15th May 2019 – BPS 2018 application, entitlements transfer and applications to the national reserve deadlines.

31 May 2019 – deadline for making certain changes to a submitted BPS application without penalty submitted before 15th May 2019 (midnight).

Please make sure you use the right land use codes on your 2019 application – the full list can be viewed here (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/rural-payments-land-use-codes-2019) and if in doubt, please give us a call to check.

When completing your application, it is also advisable to check the BPS Cross Compliance Booklet (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cross-compliance-2019) – there are no new changes to compliance from Spring 2018 applications, but if you need reassurance and to help avoid costly delays in payments we are happy to check your application for compliance as part of our services.

You can view all of the BPS deadlines here Key_dates_timeline_-_CS_ES_and_BPS__V3.0_ and for help with submitting your application, please speak to Tom on email or 07748 295448.

Countryside Stewardship Scheme application window now open!

The new window for Countryside Stewardship claims opened 18th February 2019 – farmers, foresters and land managers to request 2019 application packs via https://www.gov.uk/government/news/countryside-stewardship-opens-for-applications-in-2019 and clicking on the relevant scheme e.g. Mid Tier.

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Farmers and land managers who are new to taking on environmental work or with expired or expiring Environmental Stewardship agreements can apply for:

Higher Tier (18th Feb to 3rd May 2019 application window)

Mid Tier (18th Feb to 31st July 2019 application window)

Wildlife Offers (18th Feb to 31st July 2019 application window)

Hedgerow & Boundaries (18th Feb to 3rd May 2019 application window)

Tree Health (open for applications all year)

Woodland Management Plans (open for applications all year)

Woodland Creation (open for applications all year)

15th May 2019 – CS/ES revenue claims deadline (without penalty)

31st May 2019 – deadline for making certain changes to a submitted CS/ES revenue claim without penalty submitted before 15th May 2019.

Whilst Michael Gove’s announcement of the Agriculture Bill in September 2018 did not say a great deal about farming to produce food for the UK and export markets; one thing it did signal was a change in how farmers will be paid once (if?!) we leave the EU.

The current Basic Payment Scheme will be phased out with funding for environmental benefits and public goods at the front of the new agricultural policy. At Arthey Associates we encourage our customers to make use of entering Countryside Stewardship agreements now, to be well-placed to benefit from the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) system, which is due to be introduced 2024/2025. This will follow three years of piloting the new system nationally.

You can view all of the CS/ES deadlines Key_dates_timeline_-_CS_ES_and_BPS__V3.0_and for help with submitting your application, please speak to Tom on email or 07748 295448.

Making VAT Digital – two weeks to get up to speed with changes

How VAT-registered businesses declare their quarterly VAT returns will change with effect from VAT periods starting 1st April 2019 or after, which gives you less than a month to ensure that you are using software to record your bookkeeping that is compatible with HMRC.

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If your turnover is over the VAT threshold of £85,000, your business will need to submit all VAT returns for periods starting from 1st April 2019 via an online software submission. This means that if your current VAT period ended 31st March 2019, you can still submit in the normal way logging in to your Government Gateway, but for any VAT periods starting on or after 1st April 2019 you will need to submit your VAT return via HMRC compatible software.

If you haven’t already done so, check with your software provider if you need to download an update to make it compatible – and if you don’t currently use software to record all transactions in and out of your business, now is the time to decide whether you want to buy a software package yourself, or perhaps look to outsource this work to a third party if your time could be better used.

Arthey Associates use MoneyManager bookkeeping software to record all transactions for our clients, and our software is updated for HMRC compatibility. We are full members of ICB and IAgSA and are registered as HMRC Agents. We are also fully trained on Xero, Zoho and QuickBooks software if your business already has one of those in place but you would like to pass the administration of this on to a local expert.

We can handle your VAT returns and all bookkeeping from our Northamptonshire offices in Oundle, taking control of an often monotonous but necessary business task and freeing you up to focus on your business growth and other goals.

For your no-obligation quote, please fill in the following form:

The Agricultural Bill 2018 – what it means, and what to do!

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The Secretary of State for Defra, Michael Gove, introduced the Agricultural Bill 2018 to Parliament this week, in what has been heralded, by the government at least, as the first legislation in over half a century to deliver “a healthier and cleaner environment for future generations”.

But bold statements and spin aside, what does the bill set out and what will it mean for farmers and the wider agricultural sector?

Well, the simple answer is that there are no big surprises beyond what Mr Gove has previously been saying. His previous suggestions that farmers would receive “public money for public good” are indeed reflected in the bill, and as suspected, this will mean significant changes to the subsidy regime as we know it.

Direct payments will remain at the current levels for 2019 and 2020, supposedly with some simplification, and then will be phased out between 2021 and 2027, instead being replaced with a new system that rewards farmers for various “public goods”.

These will be for providing environmental measures on farms that include improvements to soil health, air and water quality, and enhanced wildlife habitats. Opening up the countryside to more public access, improving animal welfare, and support for technology adoption and on-farm research and development are also likely to feature highly.

For anyone who has read through the bill, you will have noted that many statements start with the words “the Secretary of State may….”, and this gives Mr Gove, or his successor(s), plenty of flexibility as to how they implement a new payment regime, at what levels, and which sorts of “public goods” will be most rewarded. This is, of course, by design given that until we have a clear idea as to what sort of relationship we will have with the EU, it is difficult to know what support is going to be necessary for what sectors of our industry.
No information has been given as to exactly how the “pubic good” activities will be measured. Furthermore, no details have been specified as to how quickly direct payments will be cut during the 2021-2027 transition period, or indeed indicated the likely starting level of direct payments during the transition, so if there is wider pressure on public spending after the Brexit deal in 2019, we could see big changes to direct subsidies as early as 2021.

Although there is still plenty of detail to be fleshed out, this doesn’t mean that farmers should not be making plans now. This bill has put in to black and white that farmers will not receive subsidies as they do now, and for most farming businesses that is going to mean the need to review the current business structure and where your income is received from. The key message is that unless your business could currently afford to farm without direct payments, you have the next two years to look at how you operate, and have made plans on how to be significantly less reliant on subsidy money.

Making sure you are as efficient as you can be is a key element of this, but you should also be considering whether there are various features and assets on the farm that can be utilised to provide the “public goods” that Mr Gove is looking for, be that habitats and features that you might not even realise you have, through to reusing redundant buildings on the farm, maybe as education centres or for community use.

In the future, and certainly beyond 2027, it is unlikely that any money will be awarded to farmers simply for farming the land. Money could, however, be available for the methods used to farm land, or what you make the land available for. For example, using farming methods that actively conserve and improve soil health could receive payments, or making land available for flooding as part of a flood alleviation scheme for nearby towns is likely to be looked on favourably.

Indications are that proportionately more of the public money will be available in the form of grants or government backed loans than in recurrent payments. Improving technology and supporting research and development has been given specific reference, and suggests that project funding for farm level trials and technology adoption could increase, especially where a number of farmers are prepared to collaborate.

Although, at this stage, there is very little detail available for farmers to firmly plan what to do to tap in to public funds, Arthey Associates advise that the first step should be to review the current financial performance and level of reliance on subsidy support, and based on the information available in the Agricultural Bill, to then consider what benefits the farm could provide to the public, be that environmental or by virtue of location of features. Undertaking a “health check” of your farm at this stage, will then allow you the time to consider what scenarios would work best for you as the details on future support start to become clear.

Please contact Arthey Associates for details of our “Farm Health Checks” to start the process of preparing for the future.

Contact us

As GDPR changes come into effect on Friday, don’t miss the opportunity to redefine your contacts database

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If you have an email address, the odds are that you have received a fair few emails over the last week asking for you to opt in to receiving contact from that business or organisation from Friday 25th May onwards, when new regulations on how we store and use data come into effect.

While much of the discussion has been negative, Amy Woolliscroft, marketing executive at farm business consultants Arthey Associates, advises that this is actually an opportunity for businesses. “Companies need to realise that where they need to confirm consent from their contact database, this is actually an opportunity to hone your target audience to people that actually want to engage with you and are more likely to become repeat or first-time customers. What you will be left with after Friday is a database that may well be half the size, or even less, than it was before, but is more valuable that the original.”

Large corporations are privy to legal and digital advice either in-house or from partner companies, but for smaller businesses including farm diversifications and other rural enterprises, you may be about to miss the boat for securing contact with your customer base going forwards. If, for example, you have a riding stables or camping site on your farm, you need to contact existing, past and future clients to ensure that they are happy to receive communications from you.

If your contacts are based within the EU, you need to ask them to opt-in, i.e. actively choose, to receive emails and other contact from you before the Friday deadline. However, GDPR incorporates more than consent, and there are five other reasons for legitimate contact once the changes come into effect.

If you need to contact someone due to a contract (they are a contracted client), legal obligation, vital interests, public interest or legitimate interest, then these are all viable reasons for contact under the new rules. If you have already sought consent when you gained that contact’s data, you also don’t need to ask for consent again so long as it conforms with the GDPR guidelines.

If you need any support in the best course of action for your business, you can contact Amy Woolliscroft amy@artheyassociates.co.uk or 07858 656444.

As a Sainsbury’s and Asda merger announces a dual brand strategy, is it time to rethink your own brand?

With the news that grocery giants Sainsbury’s and Asda are set to merge and promise to cut the cost of shoppers’ baskets by 10%, producers large and small must focus on strongly communicating the added value of their brand and capitalise on a growing number of shoppers who are turned off by the supermarket monopolies, says marketing consultant Amy Woolliscroft.

“Diversifying your farm business with an ‘added value’ enterprise is nothing new to farmers and landowners, but now more than ever we must emphasise the added value to the consumer and appeal to shoppers that are increasingly prioritising food provenance, animal welfare and a quality-over-quantity attitude to food,” says Amy.

Amy continues: “Value is no longer just price orientated, with customer experience, provenance, welfare, company ethics and heritage, being important factors in consumer buying decisions. Some consumers also like to ‘show-off’ to peers that they buy respected brands with these priorities in mind.”

With recent Ofcom research showing that British adults spend an average of a whole day each week online, the opportunities to showcase your brand and how it can enhance consumers’ lives on social media, blogs and websites are endless. Amy has put together her top tips to help your rural brand get its value messaging across to a targeted audience in an increasingly challenging food production market:

1) Identify your target audience and their priorities. Your product may be more directed to mums, ‘foodies’, local consumers or city dwellers looking for a taste of the country. Whatever your market, it is important to understand how they shop and what drives them to buy. Follow key influencers on Instagram and join relevant groups on Facebook, anything that can help you get a gauge of what drives their shopping decisions and is on trend all helps form your plan of attack.

2) Formulate a brand strategy. Regardless of your product and who you are trying to reach, it’s important to have a brand strategy and stick to it. This must be true to your products and easily communicated – if you need any help on this, get the experts involved! A marketing and communications consultant is a business investment but will help create a brand that can be believed and maintained, and give you a clear plan of attack.

3) Ensure that you have a working and up to date website and social media platform. Once you know your target audience and what drives them, make sure that you have a good website and presence on Facebook, twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Shoppers expect a digital offering from brands and it is a cheap way to communicate your brand on a daily basis. Be consistent with posts to communicate your brand values and constantly review your content.

4) Invest in social media advertising. The growth of social media advertising is astronomical, with a 14.3% year on year rise in online advertising in 2017. All social media platforms offer easy-to-use paid-for advertising options, with budgets from just a few pounds, and tools to really hone and hit a targeted audience. It is also worth getting in touch with key influencers within your audience; if you want to increase sales to families in Rutland, get in touch with a Rutland lifestyle blogger to see if they will do a review of your product on their site. You may have to pay them for it, but influencers are well respected by their followers, so an advert with them is usually good value for money.

The Sainsbury’s and Asda merger will undoubtedly result in a squeeze on pricing for suppliers, but it does also offer an opportunity for farm and rural enterprises to appeal to a growing number of shoppers that are looking outside the big five (soon to be four) supermarket giants.

If you need any support in the best course of action for your business, you can contact Amy Woolliscroft today for a no obligation chat amy@artheyassociates.co.ukor 07858 656444.