Mixed reaction to new “greening” rules for farmers

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson Environment Secretary Owen Paterson

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
7:39 PM

New regulations that give farmers flexibility over how they implement EU rules have been announced by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

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Analysis by Andrew Fundell partner in the agricultural business consultancy at Norwich-based Brown & Co

The measures gave some clarity on the implementation of the new CAP greening rules. Much of the update on Ecological Focus Areas was welcome, particularly the impact on current environmental schemes. But the inclusion of hedges on a self-certification basis along with nitrogen-fixing crops, although positive, creates some significant challenges.

DEFRA secretary Owen Patterson confirmed that ditches, ponds and afforested areas would not contribute to EFAs, which will cause significant disruption in prime arable fenland where hedges are lacking. Farmers will seriously have to consider the prospect of taking prime arable land out of production, something which the Government stated would not be the case.

Under new EU regulations, known as greening, farmers must ensure 5pc of their land is set aside as an Ecological Focus Area, instead of being used for farming or lose up to 30pc of payments.

Farmers will be able to choose how to meet the EFA requirement from a list which includes land lying fallow, buffer strips, ‘catch and cover crops’ used to manage soil fertility and quality, Nitrogen Fixing Crops such as legumes and hedgerows.

To receive CAP payments, farmers also have to adhere to ‘cross compliance’ environmental regulations.

But the government has been accused of wasting an opportunity to protect the environment as it unveiled its rules for “greening” farming subsidies.

To receive their basic payments, farmers also have to adhere to environmental regulations and Defra has cut the number of measures from 17 to 11 to reduce the burden on farmers.

In order to receive their subsidies, farmers will no longer have to meet rules on areas such as trees, public rights of way, establishing buffer strips to protect watercourses, historic monuments and water abstraction.

But they will still have to adhere to rules on areas including wild birds, habitats and animal welfare.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “We want farmers to be free to do what they do best: producing food and helping to grow the economy.

“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 knew rules as easy as possible and given flexibility on how they are implemented, as well as reducing the burden of regulations.

“We have allocated £3.5bn to rural development schemes, which we believe is a much better way of improving the environment and growing the rural economy.”

National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond welcomed the news that crops such as peas, and hedgerows, would count towards the greening measures, but called for more options to be included to prevent land being taking out of production.

“Today’s news means more choice for farmers, less land taken out of food production as well as achieving a clear positive benefit for the environment,” he said.

But Matt Shardlow, chief executive of wildlife charity Buglife, said: “The Government is currently producing a national pollinator strategy with the aim of halting the loss of pollination services worth £510m per year to British agriculture, so deciding to exclude pollinator habitats from this greening measure appears perverse.

“It’s a missed opportunity to help bees, hoverflies, and other pollinators.”

The RSPB’s conservation director Martin Harper said the announcement was a “wasted opportunity”, with the Government handing £11 billion to farmers and expecting very, very little in return.

“Without decent green measures, particularly ecological focus areas that actually deliver for wildlife, the Government’s new Pollinator Strategy - anticipated in autumn - will be toothless,” he said.

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