Arable farmers in England will have the choice of five options to comply with the Ecological Focus Area (EFA) requirement under next year’s reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Defra Secretary Owen Paterson finally unveiled new details about how Defra will implement greening rules in England, plus information on cross compliance, on Tuesday morning.
Under the greening rules farmers with more than 15ha or arable land will be required to designate 5 per cent of their arable area as EFAs. In England they will be able to select from the following list to meet this requirement:
Mr Paterson said he had chosen a package of options which give farmers ‘flexibility over how they comply with the rules.
Farmers are required to implement ‘greening’ measures by EU rules, or they will lose up to 30 per cent of their Basic Payment Scheme payment.
The greening rules cover three areas – crop diversification, Ecological Focus Areas, and measures to maintain permanent grassland.
But he acknowledged some farmers would be disappointed he did not include more options available at EU level.
Others available included wider landscape features and various forestry options but Mr Paterson said, given the lessons from the previous reform, he did not want to add extra complexity to the system.
Farmers will welcome the inclusion of hedgerows. In a sting in the tail, however, Mr Paterson revealed that farmers wishing to take advantage of this optionmight have to apply earlier and could face being paid later due to complexities over mapping hedgerows.
Hedgerows will need to be digitally recorded and verified by the RPA to meet EU requirements and avoid the risk of penalties for farmers or the taxpayer, he said.
Under the Nitrogen-fixing Crops option, Defra will allow the broadest range of qualifying crops, including peas and beans, and will not impose additional restrictions, such as on pesticide use, on the cultivation of these crops.
Mr Paterson also announced that the vast majority of Entry Level Stewardship agreement holders will not face reduced payments to account for double funding with greening.
This reflects a long-term commitment to ensuring farmers in agri-environment schemes should not be disadvantaged by greening where the measures overlap.
However, farmers with upland and organic variants of ELS, which started on or after January 1 2012, will see payments cut. Affected agreement holders will have the choice to make good the shortfall through an amendment or exit the scheme without penalty, he said.
Changes have also been made to reduce the burden of cross compliance under the new regime. The number of requirements placed on farmers to keep their land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAECs) will be cut from 17 to 11.
Some Statutory Management Requirement rules will be deleted to further reduce the burden on farmers, Mr Paterson said.
Changes include removing the requirement for farmers to keep a Soil Protection Review and moves to focus inspections on outcomes rather than paperwork.
GAECs on Water, Boundaries, Public Rights of Way, Trees, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Scheduled Monuments will be ‘retained and rationalised.
The hedge trimming ban will be extended by one month (to end August) to provide protection throughout the bird breeding and rearing season as required by the EU legislation. There will also be extra protection for earth and stone banks.
Mr Paterson has asked his officials to review the implementation of the penalty system for cross compliance ‘with a view to making it more proportionate’.
Mr Paterson said the decision to go for just five EFA options was not taken lightly.
“The EFA rules are the most complex single aspect of the new CAP given the associated verification, control and mapping requirements,” he said.
“We must learn from the lessons from the past. We know from previous experience about the difficulties which can arise from introducing new CAP measures and systems, particularly those reliant upon mapping.
“I do not want to jeopardise the successful delivery of the Basic Payment Scheme for all our farmers.”
Mr Paterson said he was pressing the European Commission to clarify what flexibility exists for adding additional EFA options to this list in future years.
“I have said all along the EU’s CAP reform is disappointing, but we have worked hard to remove the worst aspects and to make these new rules as easy as possible and given flexibility on how they are implemented, as well as reducing the burden of regulations.”