The NFU has welcomed Defra’s decision to allow nitrogen fixing crops and hedgerows to count towards Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) under the reformed CAP.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said farmers would be ‘relieved’ nitrogen fixing crops such as peas and beans will count and that there will be no restrictions on inputs.
He also welcomed the ‘important and pragmatic decision’ to include hedges in the range of options although many farmers will be ‘bitterly disappointed’ that all landscape features won’t count from year one of the new CAP.
“We have long-argued it is critical to have hedges included – after years of counting towards agri-environment schemes, it would have been a real own-goal if they didn’t feature towards the new EFAs,” he said.
“Today’s news means more choice for farmers, less land taken out of food production as well as achieving a clear positive benefit for the environment.”
However, he said the new CAP will still result in land being taken out of production, which he said was ‘bad news for farmers, for the agri-food sector and for the UK economy’.
There will be a review of EFAs, which Mr Raymond said he expected would see a ‘wider array of landscape features on offer from 2016 onwards’. He also called for a review of the crop diversification element of greening ‘at the earliest opportunity’.
He warned that farmers who use hedges to meet their ‘greening’ obligation in 2015 face higher risks of inspection, delayed payment and possible penalties
“We understand the RPA is now commissioning work to digitise hedgerows to the required Commission standard.
“I’m urging Ministers that RPA complete this mapping work as swiftly as possible. But I don’t want the mapping to stop with hedges; we need all landscape features to be available to farmers.
“This needs the Commission’s approval, and the NFU will work with Defra in Brussels to achieve this outcome.”
RSPB’s conservation director Martin Harper described the announcement as a ‘wasted opportunity’.
“The Government talks a good talk, but in this case they failed to join up their policies when they had the chance,” he said.
He said EFAs could have been used ‘more wisely’ to tackle the environmental challenges we face and could have been a flagship measure to help ailing populations of pollinating insects, by providing pollen and nectar.
“Instead, the Government has squandered this opportunity and is handing out £11bn to the farming industry in England and expecting very, very little in return,” he said.
“Without decent green measures, particularly EFAs that actually deliver for wildlife, the Government’s new Pollinator Strategy – anticipated in autumn – will be toothless.”