FARMERS are being urged to give their views on new maps published by Defra which will determine the areas to replace the current Less Favoured Areas (LFA) classification.
The present LFA map is used to work out eligibility for financial support, which will take the form of the Uplands Transitional Payment until next year.
The LFAs are being replaced as part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform process, and the new classification will be Areas Facing Natural Constraints (ANC), which Defra has mapped.
It now wants to hear opinions on the maps by March 27 and has put together online interactive maps, which can be searched using place names and postcodes. It will identify land within the proposed ANCs down to field parcel level.
Although the new ANC is due to come into force in January next year, it may not be until early 2016 that the system is actually up and running.
How the new land designation is used will also depend on the wider CAP reforms, including developments on direct payments, greening and agri-environment schemes.
The ANCs will be based on criteria such as soil, slope and climate. The classification is also worked out on the formula that 66% of utilisable agricultural land is naturally constrained, although land where the natural constraint has been overcome will be removed.
The EU is allowing individual member states to decide whether to introduce the ANC classification. Countries will be permitted to use up to 5% of their national direct payments ceiling to make an area-based payment to farmers in ANC areas and/or run an ANC scheme as part of their Rural Development Programme.
The NFU is urging farmers to check the interactive maps to ensure their land is mapped cor- rectly. It said some land may lose its designated status while other areas may be included for the first time.
NFU head of policy services Andrew Clark, said: “Existing LFA land in England has been designated since the 1970s. If the Commission’s proposals to move away from LFA towards ANC designation come to fruition, it will mean significant changes to land designation which may well be in place for the next 40 years. It is critically important that we get this mapping exercise right.
“Initial Defra indications suggest there may be a small net increase in the area of land designated in England as ANC, compared to the existing LFA, but what is extremely concerning to us is the potential changes on the maps at a local level.
“Defra estimates that around 12% of the current LFA falls out of ANC designation. The NFU is consulting members affected to test whether the proposed areas properly reflect agricultural constraints, but strongly urge members to take part in this consultation or run the risk of having land incorrectly classified.
“Our initial assessment is that the Commission’s proposals do not accurately reflect agricultural handicaps. Land may face multiple minor handicaps but, when taken together, add up to significant limitations on what a farmer can do with his land. The Commission’s proposals fail to recognise this adequately, and when designating areas of natural constraint under the future reg- ime, we strongly urge Defra to bear this in mind.”
Although the current LFA is associated with upland areas, under the new proposals, agricultural land facing constraint may be located anywhere in the country.
The NFU said that Defra must assess any new designations on a case by case basis to ensure that the future designation is both “credible and objectively set”.
For more information, see www.defra.gov.uk/ consult/files/anc-map-guide-130201.pdf