As harvest draws to a close and cultivations in readiness for sowing next year’s crops are well under way, farmers still face considerable uncertainty as to what they will need to do in order to comply with the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) rules.
As most readers will be aware the Single Payment Scheme, which is the existing EU support scheme for farmers, will be replaced by the BPS from 1st January next year and in so doing farmers will need to comply with a whole raft of new rules, many of which seem to me to be entirely pointless. However, compliance with these new rules will be necessary if farmers are not to lose out on support payments next year.
It seems likely that with many agricultural commodity prices at low levels, these EU support payments will be even more important next year in order to balance the books. However it is frustrating that following the publication of the latest update from DEFRA on the new rules, there are still many questions left unanswered.
In particular some of the rules surrounding Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), that form part of the “Greening” measures which will affect many arable farmers, are not entirely clear. Under these rules, farmers with more than 15 hectares of “Arable Land” may have to put 5% of their arable land in to an EFA.
The simplest way to do this is to “set aside” 5% of the Arable Land as “fallow”. But care is required to understand both the definition of “Arable Land” land and what will qualify as “fallow”. I do not have space to deal with these complexities here but suffice it to say one can end up with some rather counterintuitive results, which for example will allow temporary pasture to qualify as fallow provided it is not cropped or grazed between 1st January and 30th June. It seems to me this will achieve absolutely nothing of benefit for either farmers or the environment.
Another option is using hedges as a means of claiming the 5% EFA. However, the rules in relation to hedges seem even more confusing. At present it seems clear that if a hedge is bordered directly by arable land in the ownership of one farmer, then the hedge can be claimed. However, if the hedge borders permanent pasture, a road or a neighbour’s land on the other side, it is not clear whether this hedge can be used to contribute to the EFA and if so to what extent.
Further guidance is awaited on this and many other points of detail from DEFRA and so my advice to farmers is to keep things as simple as possible in the first year of the new scheme and plan next year’s cropping on the “knowns” rather than waiting for DEFRA to define the “unknowns”.
James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells
T: 01749 683381