Defra Farming podcast

Lisa Warne, John and Charlie Renner - Next steps for environmental land management

February 23, 2023 Defra
Lisa Warne, John and Charlie Renner - Next steps for environmental land management
Defra Farming podcast
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Defra Farming podcast
Lisa Warne, John and Charlie Renner - Next steps for environmental land management
Feb 23, 2023

In episode 11 of the Defra Farming podcast, Defra payments lead Lisa Warne talks to father and son John and Charlie Renner, who farm on the border of the  Northumberland National Park between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnwick.

Lisa gave an update about what's happening next in the growth and rollout of our environmental land management schemes. John and Charlie talked about how the new farming payments will fit in with the management of their farm and had plenty of questions about the new grants and actions from the farmer's point of view.

For more information on how the Renners farm, see the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) website.

There’s something for everyone in Defra's schemes and grants. We’ve made them much more straightforward, flexible and workable, so if you haven’t yet looked, now is the time. Find out what you can get paid for on the Defra Farming blog.

Show Notes Transcript

In episode 11 of the Defra Farming podcast, Defra payments lead Lisa Warne talks to father and son John and Charlie Renner, who farm on the border of the  Northumberland National Park between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnwick.

Lisa gave an update about what's happening next in the growth and rollout of our environmental land management schemes. John and Charlie talked about how the new farming payments will fit in with the management of their farm and had plenty of questions about the new grants and actions from the farmer's point of view.

For more information on how the Renners farm, see the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) website.

There’s something for everyone in Defra's schemes and grants. We’ve made them much more straightforward, flexible and workable, so if you haven’t yet looked, now is the time. Find out what you can get paid for on the Defra Farming blog.

Lisa Warne, Payments Lead, Environmental Land Management, Defra
Hello and welcome to the Defra Farming podcast. I'm Lisa Warne and I work on the payments policy for the new environmental land management schemes, which involves working through how we'll pay farmers and how much you'll pay them to deliver environmental and climate outcomes. I work in the wider team within Defra that's working in the farming sector to roll out new policies and payments.

We work collaboratively with the industry and have loads of really fascinating conversations with farmers. We know that the people farmers really want to hear from is other farmers, so we thought we'd share some of the conversations that we're having. Today we have a really special edition discussing the new environmental management schemes or elements as we know them, and we've got 2 generations of a farming family from Northumberland, John Renner and his son Charlie, who's a farming consultant. They have very kindly agreed to come on today and be our guests on the podcast. So welcome John and Charlie. Would you like to introduce yourselves and tell us a bit more about your farm or how you work in farming?

John Renner, Farmer, North Bellshill Farm, Northumberland 00:54
Good afternoon. My name is John Renner and I'm a farmer in Northumberland and we do all sorts of diverse things, but environment comes top of the agenda at all times.

Thank you. And Charlie…

Charlie Renner, Farm Business Consultant
I'm Charlie Renner, John’s son. I recently graduated from university, went straight into employment. So that's where I am now.

Super. Thank you. And John, you've got quite an interesting story to tell about how you've come about having your farm and how you came from being a young farming boy to where you are today. Do you want to explain a bit more about that?

Oh, Lisa, I'm still a young farming boy [Laughter]. That's what I think in my mind. Yeah, Helen and I, my wife, Charlie's mum, we started from scratch in 1997. We managed to get a tenancy and after about 5 years of grinding away and realising I was getting nowhere, I did a course, a Worshipful Company of Farmers course, at the time it was based in Kent at Wye.

And it was just eye opening, it was a light bulb moment for me. And on finishing that I signed up to join LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming). I realised that our business wasn't really functioning as a business should. I decided that agriculture as a whole just wasn't functioning as a business. And we changed banks within 6 weeks and we managed to buy the farm within 18 months.

Since then, we've developed things, we've sold things, we've moved on, we've bought another farm, but always with the environment and environmental farming and animal welfare in mind.

Lisa 02:19
And you mentioned there that you're part of LEAF. Could you just explain to those listeners that don't know about LEAF, what it's about and how you've become involved?

Yeah, LEAF, Linking the Environment And Farming. It's a national organisation, it's actually a charity, It's a non nonprofit-making charity and it's a group, an institution, and it's a mindset. It's a fantastic thing to be part of and it's all about what it says on the tin. It's linking the environment and farming and they've got this system, they call it integrated farm management, and it's how we can manage our businesses and our farms in such a way that it doesn't interact.

They call it the integrated farm management wheel. That one doesn't affect the other too greatly and it's to get your businesses working quite dynamically. It sounds a very modern, trendy word dynamic, but in a dynamic way. I find it just every time if there's a drug on this earth, that's for me, it's leaf. I find it absolutely inspiring, the people I meet and the people I talk to and the way people are approaching their individual businesses nationwide. 

It's a superb organisation. I can only encourage anybody to get in touch with LEAF. They also do LEAF mark, which is an assurance scheme and the LEAF mark assurance scheme is absolutely the best assurance scheme. Yes, it's hard. It's a little bit more work, but it's all about food quality and the best food quality we can produce.

Super. That sounds great to hear. And have you had to adapt your farming practices at all to comply with LEAF or were you doing it already?

This is a funny thing. You don't comply with LEAF. It's all about self-assessment and it's all about you improving the way you do and LEAF help you and guide you and you just develop. I described it as being like an onion and you're taking the layers off an onion, but the onion’s forever getting bigger. You never get finished because it gets more exciting, the more you do, the more interested you become, and the more you delve in to peel the more layers off the onion. Once you get in that mindset, it's so exciting.

Lisa 04:26
That's great to hear. Thank you. I also understand you're part of the Agricology Network, which again, listeners to this podcast might not know much about, are you able to explain the Agricology Network and how you’ve become involved and what you do on your farm?

Well, Agricology is just something, I've got to say, through LEAF, I've sort of stumbled into and didn't know what it was myself. But it's a group of farmers nationwide that are doing good environmental work, environmental practices and food production. So it's a really good, almost a talking shop of bouncing ideas and best practice off each other and developing those ideas and moving forward.

Sounds like you've got lots of opportunities to learn from one another, which is something that's really important in the farming network. So it sounds great. And then, Charlie, just tell me a bit more about yourself and how you're involved in the farm or not and how you see yourself in ten years time.

I get involved with the farm quite a bit, so I'd have to say most weekends I'm there helping out on the farm, whether it's doing cows, feeding cows, even this morning before work, going there to load the wagon to get the sheep away. In 10 years time, it's something I've been asked quite a lot recently. No one knows where we're going to be in 10 years’ time.

You know, the world could look completely different. I hope I'm still in the same sector. I hope I'm still doing what I love. within agriculture. It could be in a job. It could be at home on the farm. So those are my options. I just need to choose one.

Lisa 05:50
It sounds great. Sounds like a good future ahead and hopefully the farming sector will be a bright future for you in 10 years time. John, I know another one of your passions on the farm is educational visits, and I understand you have quite a lot of children out to visit the farm. Can you talk through a bit more about what you do with educational visits?

We don't just have children. We have everybody from infants up to, we've had a group of vicars out on the farm. They came for a group visit. I didn't know vicars went on tour, but these ones do, and people just want to ask questions and get those questions answered in a very straight and honest way. 

One of the best techniques I found when you get groups onto the farm is I'll explain what we do and how we go about it, and then just sit back and give people time to ask the questions because it's all well and good me telling them what I think they want to know, but quite often the questions start coming, and they become really diverse, whether it be about the colour of the tags in the sheep’s ear, or how long do cows carry their calves? How long is the Estrous Cycle on a cow. It goes on and on and on. And people want to know this. Why do cows come inside for the winter?

Why aren't they outside all the time? Now I've got to explain that’s our policy. That's how we do it. Cows would probably want to be outside all the time, really. But because of where we live, and the soil type and different things, that's our policy. But these questions come up. So I don't tell people. I answer the questions. And over the last 20 years we've had about 20,000 people over the farm.

Gosh, that's a lot of people.

The stupid thing is I haven’t charged a single person.

Lisa 07:26
Oh, no, no, that's great to hear. Thank you. So apart from farming, we have another shared passion between us, and that's the great game itself, rugby. John, Charlie, tell me about your interest in rugby and where it stems from.

I just love rugby. I think rugby's just the best thing ever. I think it's all about camaraderie. I think it's a discipline. I think it's mentally stimulating, not just physically stimulating. Some of the best friends I've got, I met after playing rugby, so the socialising is just tremendous and I just think the Six Nations is the best tournament ever in the world and it comes around every year and we're right in the middle of it.

No, that’s great to hear. So I have quite a strong interest in rugby. I'm part of a strong rugby family and as children, me and my brother used to go down to Gloucester to support the team there with my mum and dad and then at university I played for the first time and really enjoyed it. And then just last year I took it back up again and play ladies rugby at my local club, Stow-on-the-Wold.

I think I very much mirror your thoughts around why it's so great. It's just that camaraderie. I love being together as a team, working together as a team, and it mentally stimulates me in a way that I didn't think was possible because actually, when you're playing a game, you have to think about so many different things. And I’m now using some of those skills to help coach my son’s under-10 team, that's Stow-on-the-Wold as well.

I got Charlie involved when he was only 5 and I started coaching the 5-year-olds and I find bribery with chocolate works a treat. I used to play for Alnwick, then I played for Harper Adams. So Charlie started, when you were 5, and...

Yes, still playing today. I’ve gone through all of our Alnwick juniors and started colts, went away to uni, played for RAU (Royal Agricultural University), Cirencester, and back and playing for Alnwick 3s now trying to get on the tour side to New Zealand. So...

Oh wow, that sounds amazing. And I think you're being quite modest Charlie, because I heard probably from your dad, that you're the top try scorer for Alnwick’s side this season, is that right?

Possibly. Maybe the 3s. We might need to top that up.

Lisa 09:18
[Laughing] That's great. Right, let's bring us back onto farming. Thinking about your passion and interest in farming, what does good look like for you for farming in England over the next 10 years?

I just think food quality, and food quality is just one of my top aims. But I've got an equal first because it's got to be low or no impact on the environment along with that food quality. I was at a meeting a few weeks ago and 2 farmers came up to me and said, “Oh, this is all well and good.

We've been farming for 50 years. We've ripped out hedges and ploughed up to the bottom of the hedge and it's better for our farms. We know how to do it.” I said, “But this is bigger than all of us, and we've got to work more with nature and the environment.” 

If I've got a third, I want an interactive society that understands exactly what goes on on farms so there's no shroud, there's no mystique about it. I think farming should be completely open and frank that these are the problems we've got and this is how we solve them. Rather than saying, get off my land.

Lisa 10:18
Well, it sounds as if, from what you described, your interest and passion in farming, that you're ticking off all those from what you're doing on the farm at home. So that's great to hear. Okay, so moving on to our environmental schemes, the podcast is going to focus on the new environmental land management schemes and talk through the information that we've recently published at the end of January 23 on our updated agricultural transition plan.

And I'd like to talk through with you what's on offer to farmers and get your views on this. But first of all, I'll just talk a little bit about what currently is out there. So we have 3 schemes that pay for environmental land management goods and services. And the first of these is the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), where we're looking to pay farmers to adopt and maintain sustainable farming practices that protect and enhance the natural environment, but working very much alongside food production.

And we're also looking at supporting food productivity and improving animal health and welfare, optimising the use of inputs and making better use of natural resources. Then we've also got Countryside Stewardship (CS), which you're probably quite familiar with, which will pay for much more targeted actions in specific locations, features and habitats. And then we're also looking at bringing in Countryside Stewardship Plus, which is an extra incentive for land managers to join up and work across local areas to deliver bigger and bolder and better results.

And then we've also got our big and bold Landscape Recovery scheme where we pay for bespoke long term, larger scale projects to enhance the natural environment. And we ran the first round of this competitive process in 2022 and awarded funding to 22 projects which covers over 40,000 hectares. We plan to run 2 more rounds of Landscape Recovery, opening one again this spring and another in 2024.

And in this second round we plan to focus on Net Zero protected sites and habitat creation and we're looking to take up to 25 new projects depending on the quality of the applications that come in. So John and Charlie, just to get your thoughts, I'd be interested to know what current environmental stewardship schemes do you have on your farm?

We have a higher tier Countryside Stewardship scheme and we've just gone into the SFI. So I'm really interested to know going forward, how are we going to be able to stack these schemes and integrate them? Does it become a system then?

That's a really good question. So we very much intend for CS and SFI to work together. And as schemes evolve over the next 2 years, we intend to offer SFI and CS in a single integrated online service with farmers and land managers able to select a combination of actions that works for their farm. And we really want to encourage farmers to have both CS and SFI agreements on their land.

So it will be possible so long as you're not paying for the same actions twice on the same piece of land and the actions are compatible. And all this information around compatibility can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Charlie 12:58
So in the new SFI you've got your improved grassland and your low input grassland. Now is that very similar to the GS2 that you can currently get in Countryside Stewardship? So one, you can supplementary feed and the other one you can't, but it's still roughly the same payment.

Yeah. So there is quite a similarity between some of the current CS options. But the one thing I would say is that actually the standards in 2023 are looking and feeling quite different to the current CS options. One of the things that we've done is we've listened to industry feedback and we've very much stripped away a lot of the prescriptions that sit within those standards.

So for example, the flower rich grass margins that is in one of the new standards. We're being much less specific around what the feed rate can be, what the sowing rates would be. We're much more flexible about the species that you can plant in those margins. So we're effectively handing the autonomy back over to the land manager to say it’s up to you.

The aims of this standard is to produce a flower-rich grass margin. Do that as best as you can on your land, knowing your land conditions, the climate, the soils, everything. So there is a similarity in the sense that the titles are quite the same. But actually when you get to the detail, Charlie, I think you'll be quite pleased that a lot of those prescriptions have really been stripped out.

John 14:13
That brings us beautifully to a thought about what happens if they change to payment by results, because in the north east of England where we are, one of the hardest things is, for example, to establish a cover crop. We've got a later harvest and to get a cover crop in before the cold autumn is sometimes very hard. But I was speaking to someone the other day and they were saying, well, actually some of the thinner crops are better for the environment, leaving a more diverse field and it can only be done on a field-by-field basis really.

I'm glad you’ve mentioned payment by results. It's something that I'm particularly interested in, working in payments. So yeah, we're really keen to explore payment by results, particularly in Countryside Stewardship, and I think it would work really well for these farmers that are already doing great stuff for the environment and those that want to do that little bit more and get rewarded for the outcomes that they deliver.

And I think in the scenario you gave, it might be that you're not producing a huge amount of food on that land, but you're producing some great results from the environment. And in these situations we'd like farmers to be rewarded for that and for delivering that bit more. And I think payment by results can work really well for farmers, probably like yourselves, that are quite familiar with environmental schemes, quite comfortable, have done a lot in the past and delivering them very well and delivering a lot for the environment. 

So I see that farmers like yourself could make use of payment results. I also think the organic sector potentially could benefit quite a lot from payment by results because again, they're already delivering quite a lot.

And I also think payment by results works quite well for those farmers that don't necessarily want to be told what to do on their land because payment by results very much strips away a lot of the prescriptions that are in the actions quite similar to what the new SFI standards are actually looking like. And it gives the autonomy to the farmer to deliver what they can on their land and get rewarded for these benefits.

You mentioned about being in Countryside Stewardship. Do you want to explain a little bit more about the Countryside Stewardship options that you've got on your land?

We've got all sorts of options on our land. We have a herbage mix option, we have a low input nitrogen option, we have a hedgerow option, we have a moorland option as well, a low grazing option. There's an area where we don't graze the land. We approached the farm and sectioned it off. We've got an area that we've put back, created a wetland in, and were fencing off burns and all sorts, and that was all part of the higher-tier scheme that we entered. We've planted an awful lot of woodland, but that was the woodland grants scheme.

Charlie 16:29
I guess we have suited the Countryside Stewardship to our farm rather than changing our farm to adapt to the Countryside Stewardship. So we were already doing stuff. We already wanted trees, we already wanted the hedgerows and it's just adapting the agreement to what we want.

That's a good point, actually. We used it as a management tool and how we could manage our farm better. And one thing we've constantly tried to do is take the good land and farm it better and the poor land hand it back to the environment in effect, or step back from it. And we do that in all our corners, all our margins, all our edges, we've now got a big drive towards pollen mixes and companion planting.

We're getting quite excited about that sort of thing. And more herbage pasture and then we can monitor, as the herbage pastures building up, we can monitor that quite closely. But is that related to our cattle’s health, so important, and rumination with diverse herbage and species within. It should prove to be more resilient for the animals.

Lisa 17:25
Sounds fantastic. Great. Thank you. Well, you’ll be quite pleased to know that we actually updated the payment rates for both the revenue and the capital items this year, which hopefully you'll see the benefit of shortly. And then we've also introduced other improvements into the schemes. We've expanded the capital offer to include items to help prepare for habitat creation and restoration.

We’ve further expanded the successful Catchment Sensitive Farming offer, with eligibility now covering all catchments, and I think this is just great news because I've seen myself the success of Catchment Sensitive Farming. We're allowing Higher Level Stewardship agreement holders to take up CS revenue agreements alongside their HLS. So that will really benefit these farmers that are currently in Higher Level Stewardship to do a bit more if they want to do it, because they may not have been able to do that in the past.

We're bringing some higher tier options into mid-tier and we're increasing the options available under the wildlife offers, the wildlife pollinator and the farm wildlife packages. And then we're also extending the capital works offer to 3 years and we've moved away from the revenue claim process that was asked of every year, and we're now just asking for an annual declaration just to make the process that much smoother.

So hopefully that will be good news to you both. And you can think about the new payment rates and some of these other offers that might come forward in the next year.

John 18:39
So I've got a question, with all these new schemes coming into effect, and we touched on SFI and Countryside Stewardship working together. I've read things about Countryside Stewardship Plus, could you go into a bit more detail for that?

Yeah, great question. Thanks, Charlie. We acknowledge that CS is actually a good scheme now. There's a lot of great stuff being done, and farmers delivering lots for the environment and we've got 94% more CS agreements now than we did in 2020. So, you know, we've really improved numbers and we really want to build on the success of this scheme.

So we've decided rather than introducing a new scheme that we had called Local Nature Recovery, we're going to take all the great stuff that we’d planned to do in Local Nature Recovery and instead build this into Countryside Stewardship. And we think that we can do this and the transition will be much smoother and faster than developing a new scheme, and hopefully it'll make it a huge amount easier for farmers and feel a little less complex without having multiple different agreements.

There are 3 main areas with Countryside Stewardship. We're very much expanding the amount of actions on offer to farmers so we can deliver even more for the environment. We’ll look at how we might be able to target funding towards actions in the right places so they have the biggest impact and we're looking at exploring payment by results, which is what I talked about earlier, whereby farmers will get rewarded for the outcomes they deliver rather than the actions, which will provide higher payment rates for those that deliver more.

We're also looking at improving the service for countryside stewardship so it's quicker and easier for farmers to apply and working alongside SFI. And we're hoping to make the agreements much more flexible. And finally, the CS Plus element is we're really keen for farmers to be working alongside each other and to encourage collaboration so we can deliver more across larger areas in a much more joined up fashion.

So I hope that explains Countryside Stewardship Plus and might be something of interest to you in the future.

John 20:20
Yeah, I sit on the Catchment Sensitive Farming steering group for the Till and Tweed basins and I've found that a phenomenal source of information of what's available and how farming has been changing and what the government is trying to address. I find it so interesting that you mentioned Catchment Sensitive Farming, and that's got a lot to do with the development of the capital works that go on farms to control water flow, improve soil management through less cultivations, contour cultivations, that sort of thing, hedgerow management.

There are meetings going on all over the country constantly. There's one coming up in the north east, they’re so informative when they’re there, they get the best speakers there. I love this idea of using Catchment Sensitive Farming as a bit of an information tool as well.

Yeah, that's really good to hear and I'm glad you've had a positive experience with Catchment Sensitive Farming. Thank you. I'm just going to pose that you've heard a little bit around what's new on offer, and I will go into a bit more detail around the new standards we've introduced, but one of the questions I'm particularly interested in working a payments policy is, if you've started to think about how you might plan ahead in your business because BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) is being reduced slowly over time and obviously that may have financial implications on your business?

We started planning, we could see BPS was going to be reduced and believe it or not, we started planning for this 8 years ago. We said this is how we want our business to be looking, coming through BPS. We could see the margins getting tighter and our reliance on BPS being too heavy. So we've had a huge transition, where we wanted to be, what we wanted to do.

The transition has been colossal for us, but we started moving our business 8 years ago, planning. The consultant that we use, he’s such a good sounding board. He looks at me quizzically quite a lot of the time when I get some of my brash ideas. We feel really brave that we can take all this on and we're still going to be there in another 10-15 years time.

We've got plans of what we want to do. It's integrating our children. Charlie’s got 2 older sisters and everyone's thoughts are put in the big pot and then pulled out because I’m now 55 and I think by the time I'm 65, I'll be thinking about doing an awful lot less. And so it's going to be up to the next generation and what do they want to do? So we're thinking about that and moving on from there.

Lisa 22:30
Great. So, Charlie, it sounds like your dad is quite an innovator and forward thinker. Have you any reflections on that question, thinking about planning?

Yeah, I'm really involved. At the minute I'm asking Dad, ah, can we put this there? Can we put this there? Because in the future I might want that there. We're already planning for that. Planning ahead.

So you talked about your SFI 22 standards that you've gone into. So last year we introduced 3 standards around the arable and horticultural soils, the improved grassland and the moorland standard. And we've also got the animal health and welfare payments where we're paying for a farm visit from a vet to complete an annual review of the health and welfare of a farmer's livestock.

Can you talk us through how you’ve found the process of applying for SFI and which standards you've gone into? And again, how that fits on your farming system?

Well, we've gone into intermediate grassland soils and the arable soils just because we thought, well, we're already doing that, we may as well get payment for doing it. With the application online, clicking the map, the areas that you want, was really good because you can see your farm, you can see exactly which areas are going to be in which, which I thought is a real bonus.

That's great to hear. And what timeframe did it take you to apply online?

It didn't take too long, but we filled out the application, and Dad went, actually, I don't want that field in. And then it was just going back, resubmitting, just getting it all done again. So it didn't take too long initially, but it's just making sure it's right.

There were slight second thoughts about what we were doing, and that was it. It was me being a grumpy farmer.

Lisa 23:57
No, that’s great. We've had a lot of positive feedback around how the processes is for applying for SFI and how it can be quite quick and easy, but it's great to hear it first hand, how easy it is that you've managed to make it work on your farm, even if you have had to make a few changes along the way. 

Moving on to what we have now and what's coming out in the future. At the end of January, we updated our agricultural transition plan and we also released a lot more information around SFI and the SFI 23 standards as they're called, and we very much listened to feedback from the industry and we've taken their concerns on board around just not having the information out there to be able to really fully plan moving forward. 

And we've rolled out SFI 23 standards much quicker than we expected. So we had planned to do 3 and we've actually now launched 6 new standards. We're very keen that these standards sit alongside producing food in a sustainable way, and it's not just about taking land out of production, it's all about working alongside production, and it sounds as if you're already doing that quite a lot on your farm.

And I'd just like to get your thoughts on if you think any of those interest you in the future. So we've introduced the hedgerow standard. In hedgerows, we're looking at them being managed for different heights and widths. We're looking at managing hedgerow trees and assessing and recording hedgerow condition. We've introduced an integrated pest management standard, which we're asking farmers to complete an assessment and a plan, and we're also asking them to establish and maintain flower rich grass margins either in blocks or in-field strips.

We're looking at companion cropping and we're looking at reducing the amounts of insecticide on that land. We have introduced the nutrient management standard where again, we're asking for an assessment and report to be completed, and then we're looking at establishing and maintaining legumes and legume fallow on that standard. We've got the arable and horticultural land standard, which has actions within it such as producing pollen and nectar mixes, wild birds seed foods, establishing grassy field corners or blocks and buffer strips.

And then we've got the 2 grassland standards, which I think you mentioned, Charlie. We've got the improved grassland standard, where we're looking at taking field corners and blocks out of management, introducing buffer strips on the land, and we're asking for the land to be managed in a very low input way. And we've got a different approach for the lowlands to the uplands in that standard.

And then we've also got the low input grassland standard. More details to follow on that. I've talked very much around the new flexible approach within these standards, where we've really pulled back on the prescriptions. The ask is less, it's more down to a farmer to deliver the results. I really feel there's something for everyone in the farming industry.

We want all farming sectors to engage in SFI, and I was at the Dairy Show last week and dairy farmers have been historically a bit harder to get into agri-environment schemes because of the practices on their land. But it was really quite heartening for me to stand at the Dairy Show and to be able to talk to dairy farmers and show them what was on offer.

They all have nutrient to manage and they're likely to very much have clover in their grassland. So the nutrient management standard is applicable to them. They're all going to have grass and soils that they can potentially manage through SFI 22 And again, all the standards very much fit in with their current farming practices. And then the other sector that we're really keen to make it easier for them to apply is tenant farmers, which I know doesn't apply to you but could do for some of your customers, Charlie.

Agreements now last for 3 years in SFI. The tenant doesn't need landlord's consent to take part, and the payments in the scheme go to the farmer doing the work on the ground. So just running through what we've got in SFI 23, do you think there's other things there that you could bring into your farm?

Charlie 27:12
Dad and I were speaking about this before and we were really looking forward to the nutrient management and also the integrated pest management options, especially with the companion crop and the new use of insecticides. We’re already using non to very little insecticides and we're already establishing a companion crop. So as we said before, it's stuff that we're doing and it's good to get paid for it.

The other thing that I'm excited about is hedgerows. There's a lot of hedgerow management going on and I just feel we can fill in our gappy hedgerows, we can manage our hedgerows. There's an incentive there to really manage it an awful lot better.

Super. That's great to hear. So hopefully we'll be seeing an application from you both shortly.

[Laughter] Lisa, the SFI management payment, I've heard about it. Can you explain what that is?

Yes, of course. So this year we're introducing an SFI management payment, which is on top of the payment for actions through SFI. And we've always made a commitment to farmers that we’d pay fair and attractive rates while making sure we deliver value for money. And we've also made them a commitment that we would regularly review rates and actions over time.

So we are introducing this SFI management payment to recognise some of the management costs and time that's involved in a farmer participating in SFI. And Charlie, I think you already referred to earlier, it takes time just to think about where you would put certain actions or standards on your land, and you might have to think about your rotations.

And it also just takes time to get the guidance online and read through it and see what works best for you. And we also want to encourage farmers to do more in their SFI. So once you've entered, it doesn't mean you just do what you've put in at the start. We want farmers to add in more land, add in more standards as they come available online and when they feel more comfortable with the standards that they're doing.

So what we are introducing is a payment for the first 20 hectares of land up to the first 50 hectares entered into SFI. So this will represent a maximum payment of about £1,000 a year. We do plan to keep the payment under review for the next 2 years to see if it's working and delivering good value for money whilst achieving the outcomes that we want.

We also very much want to encourage those smaller farmers to come into SFI. Charlie, you may have come across farmers that have quite a small area of land and previously the hassle factor of actually having to put in an application, if you've only got 10, 15, 20 hectares, it's not worth the price of the payment rates that they're getting, but hopefully now this payment might just encourage them to think about going in. 

So Charlie and John, what would you say to other farmers who are perhaps holding back or unconvinced it's worth them applying for these new payments under SFI?

Charlie 29:35
I've been doing quite a bit on this. Farmers already in Countryside Stewardship, should they go into SFI? I'd say yes, you're getting paid on land you wouldn't necessarily get paid on before. So it's more money to the farmer and in return everyone else is happier because the farmer’s doing good for the environment. So I see it as everyone should be doing it really.

I've got similar thoughts about it. It's actually payment for good business management and our businesses need to develop and move. All businesses develop a move all the time. Our input costs have gone up so much. We've got to control that. We've got to manage our animal health, we've got to increase or maintain our profitability. There's so many things going on and actually this just puts a little baseline in the bottom and gives you a constant with an annual income.

We've just recently had a review. Farming Resilience Fund, I think that was what it was called. I was one of the guinea pigs at the beginning and that was really good, someone coming in and actually being very sensitive but asking me some strong questions about my business, where I'm going to, what I'm wanting to achieve and where I should be going.

And it's government funded. And I think taking that within your business and moving forward is very important at the minute and consolidating what you've got. As I said, businesses have got to change.

The way we’ve done it, we've got a plan of where we want to go. It's what we can either do with the land which may be outside of farming, what we can do with the business to make it stronger. It’s all of that and it’s just the help that we can get as well.

And adding value to our produce. Before, we weren't quite sure where we were going. Now we know where we're going by adding value to our produce. So we have now got a map for the next 5 years of what we want to do and where we want to be

Lisa 31:14
Charlie, I just wanted to pick up on some of your experience working with farmers in the consultancy and the advice that you may provide. Can you talk through what help there is available for farmers out there and how they might be able to learn more and what training there is on offer.

There's advice and it doesn't just come from consultants. We're there to help and guide, help your business, a 1-to-1 personal approach. But through my development, I've gone to AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) Monitor Farms, looking at trials all over, seeing how other people do it. But then it's also discussing with other farmers at these events. I take stuff away from it. I also know Dad’s done quite a bit of these steering groups.

You go along and I always think it's not going to change your world, but you're going to take something back that you can integrate within your business. It might be just one little topic. I went to a really interesting thing the other day about insects and the benefits of insects within your crops. Absolutely superb. Newcastle University have done so much research on it.

That's good to hear. And I think from a Defra perspective, we're keen to get the advice right because if you get the right advice, then your scheme that you do on your land can be so much more successful. But I do think those peer to peer networks are key because you can really learn so much from talking to local farmers or national farmers around what they're doing and how they're delivering things.

So that's good to know what is available. Just to finish off then and wrap up, you both seem very passionate around what you do in your farm and it's just been a pleasure to hear about that today, so thank you. What gives you optimism for the future?

John 32:38
I can see regionality of food becoming a massive thing in the future. People being proud of the product that the local produces. You get it with our local butcher, and we've got one of the best honey producers in the country up here. It's just fantastic. You experience the produce. It might take 10 years, it might take 15 years, but I would love to think that, for instance, Northumberland has its own brand.

You go to Northumberland for an experience, you experience the landscape, you experience the food and the flavour and the smell of Northumberland. When you go to France, that's what you experience. It's all regional and one region of wine producers will not drink another region of wine producers. They're quite sneaky about it. That's what I see for the future and I think this is the beginning of that movement into regional food.

Following up on Dad's point, it will make farmers proud to produce a good product. We've discussed this quite a bit at home. If you're tasting your own stuff, you want to develop it more, you want to make it taste better. You're seeing the other people in the area. They're producing good food. You want to do it better and it could be a way of benchmarking it. And with the benchmarking it would just improve the food system with that regionality. And farmers will want to produce more. They’ll want to produce a good product.

The one thing we don't have up here yet is a vineyard. We need one, don’t we? [Laughter]

Thank you so much both of you, that's been a really fantastic and interesting conversation and thanks very much for coming on the podcast today. If you'd like to subscribe to this podcast, you can get it wherever you normally get your podcasts from. And if you want to follow the Farming and Countryside Programme in a little bit more detail, you can follow us on the blog

Thanks very much for listening. Thank you so much John and Charlie for coming on. It's been an absolute pleasure to speak to you both.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

Thank you. Goodbye.