Farmers can apply for a wider range of capital grants, including to help improve air quality, through the latest round of the Countryside Stewardship scheme (CS) which has now opened.
The maximum level of funding available for the different groups of capital-only grants has also risen from £10,000 to £20,000.
Defra has revealed that a key change this year is a bigger range of capital items will be offered to farmers under a new Capital Grants offer, designed to sit alongside the simplified Wildlife Offers.
This Capital Grants offer will act as an umbrella for the old water quality and hedgerows and boundaries grant schemes and the number of capital items available through it has also been expanded to 67.
Farming consultant Paul Dennison, of Strutt & Parker, said it would give farmers greater flexibility to implement changes which would bring environmental benefits, without requiring them to sign up for a five-year mid-tier agreement.
“The capital-only grants have always been popular with farmers, but we anticipate there could be even greater uptake this time, given the level of interest there is in improving environmental performance within the sector.
"These grants are a valuable opportunity to be able to improve a farm’s infrastructure to reduce air and water pollution from agriculture,” he said.
Farmers wanting to access capital grants have the choice of applying for either a standalone two-year option under CSS, or as part of a wider five-year mid-tier CSS agreement.
Under the standalone scheme option, farmers will be able to apply for up to £20,000 to fund work on boundaries, trees and orchards (previously the hedgerows and boundary scheme), another £20,000 to pay for water capital works and an additional £20,000 for air quality projects.
“In theory, this means that applicants can apply for £60,000 worth of grant funding, if they draw on each of the three funding pots available,” said Mr Dennison.
“As part of a mid-tier offer, applications will be capped at £120,000 for both air and water quality items and £50,000 for hedgerows and boundaries.
"This is another change, as previously there was no limit if capital items were part of a wider mid-tier application, including other field management options.”
Capital grants to improve water quality include funding for concrete yard renewal, the installation of rainwater harvesting equipment, alternative drinking sources for livestock away from watercourses and ponds, lined bio-beds, plus the roofing of silage camps, collecting yards, muck heaps, slurry and silage stores.
The new air quality grant options will help to fund automatic slurry scrapers and the installation of low ammonia emission flooring for livestock buildings.
Mr Dennison said farmers wanting to apply for some water and air quality capital grants would need the approval of a Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer (CSFO) before they put in their application.
“The deadline for water capital grant applications is earlier than in previous years, so this means farmers will need to act quickly," he explained.
"The deadline for applications is 30 April and Defra has said farmers must put in their approval request to their local CSFO at least six weeks before this, which means by Friday 19 March at the very latest.
“Our advice would be to make contact with your local CSFO as soon as possible, as they can get very busy and the process of approval may be slow again this year because of lockdown restrictions.
"Natural England has already said it will not consider any request forms that arrive late.”
Farmers needing CSFO approval for capital items which form part of a mid-tier application have until 18 June to put in their request form. The scheme will close for mid-tier applications on 30 July.
“Cuts to Basic Payments start to take effect from this year, so a mid-tier application is well worth considering as a way of making up some of the financial shortfall,” said Mr Dennison.
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme is due to remain open to new applications until 2023, with the final round of agreements starting in January 2024, ahead of the national rollout of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme later that year.