Although the broad outline of the policy to be adopted from 2015 onwards had been revealed to English farmers early in the spring, some areas remained unsettled as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sought clarification on some points from the European Union. Yesterday saw UK farm minister Owen Patterson announce details of how the English greening scheme would operate.
He revealed that growers sowing more than 15 hectares of crops would have to put a minimum of 5 per cent of their land into environmental focus areas (EFAs) to qualify for the greening payments.
In a written ministerial statement, Paterson also announced details of the options that farmers could take up to meet these EFA obligations in 2015. He said they would be able to choose from a list, which included: land lying fallow; buffer strips; “catch and cover crops” used to manage soil fertility and quality; nitrogen fixing crops such as legumes; and hedgerows.
Following the announcement Patterson conceded some growers might be disappointed by the limited range of landscape features – but said the EFA rules were “the most complex single aspect of the new CAP” – given the associated verification, control and mapping requirements.
Stating that it was important to keep the system simple to enhance deliverability – a mantra which has been oft heard in the Scottish CAP reform debate – he said: “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.”
He also warned that those choosing the hedgerow option should submit claims early as area verification would be required.
However, while “disappointed” at the small number of landscape features which qualified, the English National Farmers Union broadly welcomed the announcement, especially the move to include hedgerows and nitrogen fixing crops.
President Meurig Raymond said that, at a time when farmers and growers were doing all they could to meet the increased food production challenge ahead, as well as minimise their impact on the environment, sensible decisions on land use were crucial.
“NFU members have been awaiting these critical announcements so they can plan for next year and while many will be disappointed that all landscape features won’t count from year one of the new CAP, there will be some relief that nitrogen fixing crops such as peas and beans will count,” he said.
Raymond said that the union had long-argued that it was 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”.