English farmers jump through hoops to comply with CAP

New rules for multi-cultural and green farming under the Common Agricultural Policy seem quite complicated, says Hume Hargreave

The Coquet Valley, view of the Cheviot Hills from the ancient fort near Lordenshaw
A rural scene

To satisfy the conditions for Basic Payments under the reformed Common Agricultural Policy a farmer in England has to be ‘multi-cultural’ if he farms more than 10 hectares of arable land and ‘green’ if he farms more than 15. Why, and what do these conditions entail?

To be ‘multi-cultural’ the farmer has to grow two crops if the farm has no more than 30 arable hectares, or at least three if it has. The need for diversification was thought to be important in Eastern Europe where large tracts of arable land are usually sown to a single crop. The UK tried unsuccessfully for a dispensation but the Agriculture Commissioner was adamant that all EU farmers should diversify, so administrative hoops have had to be constructed by DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency to make sure that England complies.

What is a crop? A first list of types has been published. Winter and spring varieties of the same crop are to count as separate crops, but how will they be differentiated and what happens with varieties that are interchangeable? French beans, green beans, haricot beans and runner beans are all the same crop, but broad beans are not. There is no mention of brassicas; they are difficult and will appear on a further list - cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli are all the same genus but are they the same crop?

To be ‘green’ the farmer has to maintain 5% of his arable land as an ’Ecological Focus Area’. What qualifies for an EFA? Buffer strips, fallow land, areas with catch crops or green cover and areas with nitrogen fixing crops will qualify, subject to weightings, and so will hedges. The EU Commissioner has made it clear since the reform process began in 2011 that more landscape features, such as ponds, field margins and ditches, could be taken into account if a member state wished, but DEFRA has deemed those too difficult for the time being. The problem is that such qualifying features ought to appear on digital maps and none at present do.

Mapping is to become compulsory but not until 2018. DEFRA would have preferred to see landscape features excluded entirely until then. Allowing hedges to count now – and by the way a hedge more than 10m wide is not a ‘hedge’ and, if a hedge is next to a road, is it a ‘hedge’ or just half a hedge? - will mean that a manual inspection of the Rural Land Register will have to carried out in order to verify an application, hence the Secretary of State’s message that farmers who take up the option to include a hedge as part of their EFA should apply early and be prepared to be paid late.

Woodland margins, short rotation coppice and forested areas will not count. Not because they are not mapped; evidently they are not thought to provide enough environmental benefit.

The simpler CAP is not quite so simple after all.

Hume Hargreave

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