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Farming experts offer vital insights during ‘most important years in history’ for crop yields

| Duncan & Toplis | 12 February 2024

Agricultural experts met last week to offer advice to East Midlands farmers as demand for crops is projected to skyrocket.

Leading business experts from across the region met at Farming Matters 2024.

Agricultural businesses and advisers alike from across the region came together to address the strain that the world’s growing population will place on the sector and highlighted important regulatory changes and funding options that will impact farmers nationally.

The event featured agricultural experts from Wilkin Chapman, Brown & Co, The University of Nottingham, and Castlegate Financial Management addressing vital issues from the newest grant funds available to farmers through to how to promote land for development to local councils.

25% more food needed as demand set to surge

Speaking about the increased demand that the growing population is placing on the agricultural sector, the director of the Food Systems Institute at The University of Nottingham, Jack Bobo, stressed that the next 30 years are critical.

“By 2050, the global population is expected to peak at 9.8 billion people. This makes the next 30 years the most important years in the 10,000-year history of agriculture,” he said. With over 25,000 people dying every day from food-related illnesses, 25% more food will be needed by the year 2050 - putting unprecedented strain on farmers to increase crop yields.

Biggest subsidy shake-up since Brexit

In an effort to encourage more sustainable farming practices as global demand increases, the government is introducing 185 actions to reduce the crossover between the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) and Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

The two schemes are part of the revised Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which Defra secretary Steve Barclay describes as “the biggest upgrades to our farming schemes since leaving the EU”.

The schemes are intended to reduce costs and improve yields, boost productivity, improve biodiversity and soil quality, and improve air and water quality. These include incentives for arable and horticulture such as a no-till farming subsidy at £73/ha through to floodplain meadow management payments at £1070/ha.

Farmers could also earn £150/ha for introducing robotic mechanical weeding (versus £101/ha for robotic non-mechanical weeding) and a further £101/ha for camera or machine-guided herbicide spraying. In addition, farmers could earn up to £27/ha for using Variable Rate Application (VRA) technology to apply nutrients on arable, horticultural land or improved permanent grassland.

Claim 80% cashback for R&D workers

“Budgeting has never been more difficult,” said Mark Chatterton, director and head of agriculture at Duncan & Toplis. “Especially with tax rates increasing from 19 to 25%.”

One way that farming companies can improve their financial outlook is to take advantage of the government grant which pays for up to 80% of wage costs for workers involved in R&D projects. This is in addition to the 100% tax relief available for farms earning under £1 million under the Annual Investment Allowance, which is now permanent. It allows farms to claim tax relief on all machinery purchases.

Basic Payment Scheme replaced

The Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) has now been officially replaced with Delinked Payments. Having come into effect on 1 January 2024, the revised scheme will run for the next three years, ceasing in 2027 after continued annual reductions of between 60%-100%.

Statements for projected payments have already been issued and farmers only have a short window to challenge their entitlements. Tom Cheer, senior associate at Brown & Co, emphasised that claim challenges must be issued by 29 February.

New grants for farming, forestry, and horticulture

The UK has released its own domestic funding schemes following the country's departure from the European Union, enabling farmers to benefit from two new grants.

The Farming Equipment and Technology Fund offers grants of up to £25,000 for equipment for farming, horticultural, and forestry businesses. The Farming Transformation Scheme offers grants of up to £500,000 in a two-stage process, which is designed to support larger investments.

Last chance for automation and robotics fundings

Round two of the Improving Farm Productivity grant has also been announced, with grants of up to £500,000 available to cover up 50% of the costs of installing automated robotic equipment to aid in crop and livestock production.

It also offers a 25% grant rate of up to £100,000 for the installation of solar equipment to increase the take-up of renewable energy generation on farms.

Farmers are urged to act now if they wish to take advantage of the limited eligibility window to apply for this fund, as online applications for the year will close on 21 March at midnight.

National Planning Policy Framework rules relaxed

NPPF guidelines have been scaled back, allowing greater flexibility for land owners and putting pressure on local authorities to meet growing housing targets, explained Alistair Anderson, associate at Brown & Co.

To promote their land and increase the likelihood of councils granting planning approval for the development of housing, farmers are encouraged to make speculative applications early and engage with the local planning process. This will be crucial for ensuring that local authorities are aware of what land is available when they draw up their plans.

Farmers with land in East Lindsey or South Kesteven in particular are advised to act now as both local authorities are reviewing their housing plans, currently awaiting a draft consultation.

Other speakers at the event included representatives from Wilkin Chapman, who stressed the importance of succession planning for farmers during a national surge of inheritance disputes, and Castlegate Financial Planning, who advised those in attendance to make shrewd investment decisions ahead of the impending general election; this is because the volatile markets present a unique opportunity for tax-friendly investments.

Farming Matters was attended by over 150 delegates comprising local farmers and representatives from each of the companies involved in the event. For more information about any of the above, get in touch with our expert team today.


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