A total of 680 rural businesses with projects that protect the environment and mitigate the impacts of climate change will share more than £14 million this year from the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS).
During a visit to Stagehall Farm in Selkirkshire to see first-hand how AECS funding will support their conversion to organic farming, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon also announced the next funding round, which will open from the end of January.
The forthcoming round will target agri-environment support, organics and slurry storage options, and will support the ambition to double the amount of land under organic management by 2026.
In addition, this year’s £5 million Agriculture Transformation Fund will extend support for slurry storage. This support, which surpasses the previous targeted support that has been available under AECS, will help the sector meet the regulatory requirements introduced to improve the storage of slurry and digestate on farms.
Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:
“AECS continues to play a significant role in making Scotland a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.
“Our £14 million of support will help hundreds of farmers, land managers and world-class producers to thrive, while backing our climate change agenda and our response to the biodiversity crisis.
“The £5 million in additional support we are announcing today will also help improve the management of slurry and digestate on farms, helping to reduce harmful ammonia emissions.”
NatureScot Chief Executive Francesca Osowska said:
“The vital work of farmers and crofters is integral to building a nature-rich future for Scotland.
“As well as tackling climate change, by moving to a more environmentally sustainable approach, farmers and crofters can help the long-term economic sustainability and resilience of their businesses.
“These important projects will bring many environmental benefits, such as flood prevention, healthy soils, improved water quality and increased organic farming, while protecting both the habitats and wildlife that surround us.”
NFU Scotland has welcomed the announcement that 680 rural businesses with projects that protect the environment and mitigate the impacts of climate change will share more than £14 million this year from the 2022 Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS).
In addition, the Scottish Government has announced that this year’s £5 million Agriculture Transformation Fund (ATF) will extend support for slurry storage. Seeking support for slurry storage has been a lobbying priority for NFU Scotland as farmers and crofters prepare their businesses to meet the requirements of The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021.
Scottish Government also announced that the forthcoming round AECS will target and support its ambition to double the amount of land under organic management by 2026. That sees popular measures that supported improving public access, bracken control, drystone dyke maintenance, muirburn and heather control no longer eligible. Support for hedgerow creation is also capped.
Director of Policy Jonnie Hall said: “AECS continues to play a fundamental part in supporting Scottish farmers and crofters in delivering our response to climate change and biodiversity loss. We welcome the announcement of 680 successful applications under AECS 2022 sharing some £14 million.
“The opening of AECS 2023 has seen our concerns that budgets and measures would, once again, be pared back realised.
“While there’s a strong emphasis on organic conversation to help meet the target of doubling Scotland’s area of farmland under organic production, a number of popular elements have been removed – including improving public access (IPA), muirburn and heather cutting, restoring drystone or flagstone dykes, and bracken control.
“This is disappointing as such agri-environment actions can deliver significant benefits without overcomplicated and costly prescriptions. That also applies to the new cap being applied to the creation of hedgerows option of 500 metres.
“The absence of improving public access is a significant blow, given the ongoing need to ensure safe and responsible access for all those that want to enjoy Scotland’s rich and varied landscape.
“Moreover, there doesn’t appear to be any commitment on the levels of funding that will be available for AECS 2023, but it’s apparent from the pared back options that funding levels, when announced, are likely to disappoint.
“On a positive note, we have been lobbying for dedicated funding to be made available to support storage for slurry and digestate so we welcome the dedicated ATF funding for this. The £5 million, to be accessed via existing AECS routes, is a significant step towards helping a significant number of businesses to sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve efficiency through the period of transition to meet the requirements of The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021.
“Whether this will be sufficient funding remains to be seen. However, it is clear recognition that ambitions to reduce emissions cannot come at the cost of eroding and dismantling important food producing businesses critical to the economic prosperity of challenging locations, such as the Kintyre milk field.”
As part of changes to AECS, the area cap will be suspended for the conversion to, and maintenance of, organic farmland for AECS 2023 applications.
The following elements will not be available in the 2023 application round:
- Improving Public Access (IPA)
- Pond Creation
- Muirburn and Heather Cutting
- Restoring Drystone or Flagstone Dykes
- Bracken Treatment (mechanised and chemical)
In addition, the option for Creation of Hedgerows will be limited to 500 metres per application.
The Agricultural Transformation Fund (ATF) is intended to underpin support for the agricultural sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve efficiency and enhance Scotland’s natural environment through the period of transition.
This support will help the sector meet the requirements of The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021.
To simplify application and administrative procedures, ATF support for slurry storage will be accessed using the existing slurry storage option which is available under AECS. The £5 million fund will extend the available support to all areas, other than Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.