DEFRA recently published an update on how government will pay for land-based environmental and climate goods and services under its Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes. The update, published last week (26th January 2023) currently applying only to England, specified that perennial biomass crops such as miscanthus, reed canary grass and tree species grown as short-rotation coppice are all included under the ‘permanent crops’ category within the ELM schemes.
Under the guidance: “Permanent crops are crops that occupy the land for 5 years or more (other than permanent grassland) and nursery crops and provide repeated harvests.”
The update notes, that in addition to their role for provision of bioenergy, permanent biomass crops also have the potential to provide other important environmental benefits such as:
- Providing important habitats and food sources for wildlife.
- Help manage soil health and water quality.
Perennial energy grasses such as miscanthus and reed canary grass are referred to in the schemes wording as non-horticultural, multi-annual crops and are covered by the rural payments agency under land use code TC01; Tree species grown as short-rotation coppice SR01.
Overall, the schemes aim to support the use of permanent crops in land management which addresses the following key areas:
- Improve and increase the species above and below ground that arable land can support, including by maintaining habitat for farmland wildlife.
- Provide additional benefits for climate change mitigation and adaptation through soil health.
- Improve water quality and resources, and protect waterbodies.
- Support flood risk mitigation.
- Minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides through integrated pest management, to promote sustainable crop pest, weed and disease management, benefit soil health, enhance biodiversity, increase diversity of non-target plant and animal species, and improve water quality.
- Ensure effective nutrient management and planning, to help reduce production costs, maximise efficient use of nutrients, and deliver a range of environmental benefits including water and air quality.
The update provides information regarding available maintenance payments and lists a number of actions and standards eligible for subsidy. However, at present, the guidance does not specifically outline how the cultivation of biomass crops can specifically contribute to these subsidised actions. It is hoped greater clarity will be provided once the UK Biomass Strategy is published later this year.