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Transcript: Sustainable Farming Incentive North Devon

Liz Griffiths, Southcott Farm 

We're Liz and Bryan Griffiths. We've farmed here at Southcott in North Devon for the last 37 years. We've got 300 acres, just over 300 acres of all permanent pasture. 


We're getting really wet! 


Bryan Griffiths, Southcott Farm 

Our skillset, our enthusiasm, if you like, has always been livestock farming, particularly sheep. There are 13 farmers who have land adjacent to ours and those farms range between 400 acres and 100 acres. We have one thing in common that everybody keeps sheep, all of our neighbours keep sheep, some have a little bit of arable, some have beef, but it's a grassland area, it's relatively high rainfall, about 42 inches a year, and fairly heavy ground 



We keep about 30 beef cattle mainly in summer grazing because they complement the sheep enterprise. These cattle here, as it's November, are nearly finished, they're bought at about 12 months old and sold at about 24 months old.  



I suppose in common with everybody we're conscious of the environmental debate that's going on and the need to do our bit. Likewise we're also well aware that the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is in decline and so (the Sustainable Farming Incentive) SFI seemed to offer an opportunity to bridge the gap. The (North Devon Pioneer) Test & Trial gave us an insight into where the new schemes were heading, what would be available.  


Our family has grown up and left, we've got no obvious farming successor, and so obviously that plays an important part in our decisions. We're not looking to expand or to build a business and so on. And the length of our planning is somewhat shortening. It has to be done within the realms of profitable sheep production. If we let hedges grow persistently you will get brambles coming out and then the sheep get stuck in the brambles so there's that balance to be had between what is sensible for sheep production and sensible for the environment. It's finding the sweet spot that is the positives for both of them. 



Within the land management plan we identified where we are and to a certain extent where we want to go. Our ultimate goal is to have a sustainable, financially sound business producing food for the population, but also with a very healthy environment. 


Clare FitzGibbon, Land Management Advisor, North Devon Pioneer Test & Trial 

We're just going to run through the land management plan template that I drafted for Bryan and Liz as part of the North Devon Pioneer ELM (environmental land management) trial. The aim of the template was basically to help Bryan and Liz make an informed decision about how to balance food production and public goods delivery on their farm, and think about the natural capital assets they've got on their farm, what they can do to enhance those assets or create more, or manage them in a different way to deliver the local priorities that have been agreed by local stakeholders and farmers 


So the 1st page basically sums up the details of the farm, so it's a short summary of the main farm enterprises, the cropping rotation, the stock details, whether Bryan and Liz are in an agri environment scheme currently, whether they've got lots of high-risk fields that are at high risk of runoff and soil erosion. It details things like whether there are statutory designations on the farm, things like whether they've got any Triple SIs (Site of Special Scientific Interest), whether they're in an NVZ (Nitrate Vulnerable Zone), the sort of things that might influence their decision-making process. 


And then the last section of the table summarises their objectives and aspirations for the next 5-10 years, and that's something that we discussed as part of the land management plan preparation process.  



I felt this was a really important part of the plan because it was going to produce a road map that showed us where we wanted to go, and this was where we wanted to go. We want a simple production system, we don't want anything too complicated. But we want to look for opportunities to deliver more wildlife habitat on all our farm. We think we're quite good at the moment but there are always opportunities to improve and enhance them. 



So this, the 2nd section, was around the farm business advice. So this was delivered by a farm business advisor who talked through with the farmers their accounts for the previous year, looked at the different enterprises on the farm and which enterprises were making a big contribution to their profit, which were making a loss. It also looked at the role of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments currently in their profit-loss, and also the role of any current agri environment payments 


It included a table that shows how BPS will be gradually phased out over the next few years. So this helped emphasise to the farmers the role of BPS in their profits on the farm, and it summarised what the expected profits would be for the farm without BPS, and obviously this very theoretical, it's based on only 1 or 2 years of data, so this expected to change, but it's just supposed to be illustrative and emphasising the current role of BPS in the profits. 


So the 3rd section was the baseline environmental audit of the farm which focused on the natural capital, the environmental assets on the farm. So it tried to capture the quantity of those assets, the quality, so whether the woodland was of high quality, whether the hedgerows were well managed, whether the rivers were in good condition, for example, and it also tried to capture locational aspects of that natural capital. So, for example,  

the extent to which the high-risk land, so the land on the farm which is at high risk of soil erosion, the extent to which it's in some natural habitat or permanent grass and under good management already, just as an example. So for Bryan and Liz's farm, that measure was 100 because all that high-risk land is managed under permanent grassland 


So this table basically tried to capture those headline indicators, but it was also accompanied by a map which showed where the assets were on the farm, so where the permanent grassland is, where the semi-improved grassland is, where the woodland is, etc., it was very simple. 


So section D of the land management plan was about identifying what the key opportunities on the farm are to deliver the local priorities which have been agreed with the stakeholders and farmers for that local area. So it looked at each of the priorities in turn, so for example, healthy soil, reduce ammonia emissions, reducing phosphate and sediment entering the local watercourse, it looked at what the farmer was doing currently to help deliver those priorities and then identified the key opportunities on the farm where enhancements could be made to help deliver those priorities. So for example, one of the priorities that has been identified for the local area for this farm is around reducing ammonia emissions and we identified that the farmer could potentially plant additional trees around the farm buildings to trap ammonia 


To try and make this clearer, I also tried to draw just very quickly a hand drawn opportunity map basically highlighting where on the farm the farmers could deliver these opportunities. So for example, Bryan and Liz and I had discussed potentially them creating some new hedgerows and hedge banks on the farm to provide additional habitat for wildlife, reduce runoff into the rivers, and the map just shows where these hedgerows might go just to try and illustrate pictorially what they might do where. 


So section E, this details the 3 scenarios that we developed for each farm and these were based on the Sustainable Farming Incentive, so there was a low-level basic scenario which was based on the basic version of each of the Sustainable Farming Incentive standards, an intermediate scenario which is based on the intermediate version of all the Sustainable Farming Incentive standards, and a high scenario based on the high level of the standards, and we had a table for each scenario that basically detailed the payments that the farmers could receive based on the pilot SFI payment rates for each of those scenarios. And then the last table of the template captured the impact of delivering each of those scenarios on the farm business, so what the total business profit-loss would be expected to be after implementing each of the scenarios based on the Sustainable Farming Incentive.  


It was the discussions with the farm business advisor that made you think about the costs and benefits of delivering each of those 



That's right. 






We drilled down specifically into those standards that required us to reduce stocking rates, to take stock off land, when we were taking off corners, and different costs of trimming hedges annually, or every other year, and it was very interesting that you have to take that into account. Although the money could look quite good, actually, there are costs involved in doing it which have to be taken into account 



In the annex, we also had an opportunity table that focused on individual fields. So that just ran through the individual fields on the farm and just highlighted any particular opportunities at the field level, whereas the previous table had been opportunities at the whole farm level, and we also tried to include the runoff and soil erosion risk assessment in this table so that you had that there 


And one thing I know that Liz has mentioned that she found helpful, we also included a map which is produced by the Environment Agency called the alert map, which is the agricultural land environmental risk tool which just highlights which fields on the farm have a slope of more than 7 degrees and where the main runoff routes are. 



There are many many strands and ambitions and levels in the whole thing and just to pick out and simplify those that are relevant is really worthwhile.  



I don't think it's a piece of paper that necessarily gets put in the draw and forgotten about. I'm sure it can be revisited and adapted and amended during the life of a scheme.