Scottish agriculture is on the cusp of change and while Basic Payments (BPS) will remain until 2026, farmers are being warned that some conversions will commence from 2025 onwards.

That was the stark warning from Craig Bothwell, senior consultant and area manager of SAC Consulting, who told The Scottish Farmer that conditionality is coming and farmers need to be aware they need to meet a basic set of standards to enable them to secure future BPS post 2025.

He added that while the full details are not yet known, producers should be aware that they will need the following:

  • Biodiversity action plan
  • Carbon audit
  • Soil testing
  • Animal health and welfare
  • Declarations
  • Supported business plans

All of the above will form the business’ whole farm plan.

According to Mr Bothwell, such plans will lay the foundations for productivity baselines and can be built upon over the next few years thereby reducing the need for last minute testing and planning.

Biodiversity audits generally need to be done in summer months and soil analysis can be undertaken by thorough funding in the preparing for sustainable farming grant which is expected to end in early 2025.

Many farms will already have had a carbon audit either through the recent applications for soil analysis through preparing for sustainable farming or the sustainable agricultural capital grant scheme. Currently the requirement for a carbon audit is that it has been prepared within the last three years and can be funded through Preparing for Sustainable Farming or through Farm Advisory Service.

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He added that there is an extensive list of measures available on Rural Payments Service (RPS) funder the agricultural reform route map, of what can be expected in the coming years and that all farmers should be able to implement some if not already doing so to ensure future rewards.

Options range from efficient to reduced use of synthetic fertilisers/pesticides to arable ley rotations and from improved livestock nutrition to methane reduction options and nutrient management. All things that should help the bottom line of a business and improve a business’ carbon footprint would go towards such plans.

He also stressed that the new subsidy payments will be a 4-tier system with tiers 1 and 2 available to all with tiers 3 and 4 competitive.

To date, there is no detail on what animal health and welfare declarations or supported business plans are. Current animal health and welfare options available through Preparing for Sustainable Farming include semen testing, faecal egg counts, and targeted investigations for MV Johnes lung scanning for OPA etc.

The Scottish Farmer: Farmers will have to look to improve soil health to maximise future paymentsFarmers will have to look to improve soil health to maximise future payments

Looking beyond 2025, Mr Bothwell said agricultural support will comprise of the following:

Tier 1 – Available to all and may potentially be a cut down version of BPS. The essential standards are likely to be similar to all current good agriculture and environmental conditions (GAEC) and statutory mandatory requirements. What is different is incorporating such things as biodiversity gains and climate response which previously were not part of BPS.

Whole farm plans will be introduced as tool to help farmers and crofters intergrate food climate and biodiversity outcomes. Greening will continue in 2025 but be delivered differently from 2026. Whole Farm plans will be a requirement going forward and this is likely to include a biodiversity action plan, a carbon audit, soil testing, animal health and welfare declarations and supported business plans.

There is already a layer on rural payments mapping which maps out all of the habitats which therefore may need to updated if part of the plan.

Tier 2 Enhanced – This is likely to also be available to all farms like Tier 1 but will build upon those base standards. It will also be a condition of having achieved all of the standards of Tier 1 conditions. It will focus on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change and protect, restore and improve nature. The measures will also incentivise more sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

Tier 3 Elective – Competitive and will support individuals, co-ops or groups to manage land more sustainably. This will focus on funding measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change and protect, improve and restore nature. All three tiers reference regenerative farming and organics, hence it is expected that this will be a focus but not to say that there is something in the measures to support all types of farming.

Tier 4 Complementary – Funds applicants to support and advise as well as continued professional development giving the skills and advice to uptake the suite of management options and new practices and innovation under tiers 1-3.