Expert advice given on new greening measures

Greatest impact will be felt by those holding ELS agreements created after January 2012

Charles Raine
Charles Raine

North East experts have offered advice to those affected by Defra’s recent announcement on greening measures.

Introduced as part of CAP reform, the new rules mean all farmers with more than 15ha of arable land must set aside 5% of it as an Ecological Focus Area (EFA) or risk losing up to 30% of their direct subsidy payments

This 5% land area can be left fallow, put into buffer strips, used to catch or cover crops, used for nitrogen fixing crops including the likes of peas and beans, or can be used for hedgerows.

The majority of North East farmers will be breathing a sigh of relief following the long-awaited announcement, as most will see payments unaffected by the new greening measures. according to Charles Raine of Youngs RPS.

Indeed, the greatest impact will felt by those holding Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) agreements created after January 2012.

“Those with Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements, no matter what date they commenced, will not see their payments adjusted for greening,” Raine said.

“Neither will those with ELS agreements made pre-January 2012.

“For the few with ELS agreements who find themselves caught in the post-January 2012 gap, payments will be reduced where double funding applies, even for those with an organic option.

“These farmers face two main options. Either they can add further ELS options to their existing agreements where there is conflict with their greening obligations in order to meet their requirements and thus maintain payments, or the alternative would be to close their ELS agreement early, without penalty, and start again.”

One of the main complications, he added, was that not all ELS options are classed as double funding.

“It would seem that the main issues apply to arable land options such as buffer strips around water courses, ponds and field corners, as well as managed woodland edges, wild bird seed and nectar flower mixes and beetle banks,” Raine said.

“All of these will be classified as double funding.

“In addition to this there are also a few exceptions to delivering EFAs leading to exemption. In reality every farm will be different, so it is important to check your own personal situation carefully and get the correct advice to avoid missing out.”

Also of some relief to the region’s farmers will be the decision not to introduce areas of environmentally sensitive grassland in England, which would have encountered strict non-ploughing restrictions.

Similarly, the number of conditions which must be adhered to under cross compliance is to be cut from 17 to 11.

“As with any new regulation, it will take time for farmers to adjust,” Raine added.

“Those caught in the post-January 2012 gap will need to carefully consider their options. For the vast majority of farmers in the North East though, I expect the general feeling will be that it could have been worse.”

David Morley, environmental advisor from H&H Land and Property, said: “The Government has published a list of which agreements will be affected by the changes and what farmers need to do to ensure they comply with the new requirements.

“Environmental Stewardship schemes with options including buffer strips, field corner management, wild bird seed mix and extended over-wintered stubbles are among those that will be regarded as double-funded.

“Natural England estimates that around 4,000 Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) that started on or after January 1, 2012 that include these options will be affected.

“To avoid double funding, farmers will have to remove these options from their agreements, even if they don’t intend to use the same one to meet the greening requirements, or their land is exempt from the greening requirements altogether.

“Organic (OELS) agreements are affected in exactly the same way. Even though organic farms are exempt from the greening requirements, the double-funded options must still be removed.”

Farmers affected by the announcements have until November 15 to inform Natural England how they intend to meet the new requirements. Natural England will write to all affected agreement holders over the summer.

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