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East Anglia Future 50

EU rules relaxed to help drought-hit livestock farmers feed their animals

26 September, 2018 - 16:01
Beef cattle in north Norfolk. Picture: Ian Burt

Beef cattle in north Norfolk. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

Livestock farmers struggling to feed their animals after the hot, dry summer can now grow more grass and forage after a temporary relaxation of EU rules.

The dry weather earlier in the summer stunted grass growth and left many farmers without enough pasture to graze their animals, with some having to break into feed supplies usually reserved for the winter months.

But the EU Commission has agreed to some flexibility to allow farmers to grow grass and other edible forage in areas that are not usually allowed for grazing.

The UK government secured a derogation from the EU’s Ecological Focus Area (EFA) winter crop requirements, part of the criteria for receiving basic payment subsidies, which stipulates certain areas must be left fallow or sown with crop mix that cannot be grazed.

Defra secretary Michael Gove said: “We have had one of the driest summers since modern records began in 1961, and it is only right that we do what we can to support farmers who have been placed under the most pressure.”

Other government measures to help livestock farmers mitigate the impact of the summer drought have included granting flexible water abstraction licenses, and waiving penalties for farmers who fail to establish EFA catch crops by August 20.

COUNTRYSIDE STEWARDSHIP EXEMPTIONS

Defra has also published a list of 40 options under the Countryside Stewardship agri-environment scheme which can be adjusted to ease shortages of bedding and fodder for drought-hit farmers.

Farmers are being invited to apply for a Temporary Prescription Adjustment (TPA) which could relax the management rules governing when each of the different options can be cut or grazed.

Jason Cantrill, farming consultant in the Norwich office of Strutt and Parker, said the flexibility would be welcomed by East Anglian livestock farmers under pressure because of a lack of fodder and high concentrate prices – but they must make sure they fill in the appropriate paperwork.

“It is important to note that these adjustments are not granted automatically and that the extra feed must not be used for profit,” he said.

“Farmers wanting to take advantage of these adjustments must first fill out a TPA form which can be found on the Defra website and has to be returned to Natural England. Adjustments apply from 14 September to 31 December 2018 before reverting to their original requirements.”

Mr Cantrill gave an example of a two-year sown legume fallow. He said farmers would normally only able to be cut, not graze, these mixes until October 31 and they can’t be conserved for forage. However, under the TPA they can apply to cut or graze 100% of the legume mix to conserve from September 14.

Additional guidance has also been issued for farmers who failed to establish winter bird food plots during the drought conditions. Defra will still pay farmers with this option, but only if they agree to give birds supplementary feed over the winter period.

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