Could Basic Payment Scheme ‘greening’ rules mean fewer peas are planted in East Anglia?

Norfolk peas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk peas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

East Anglian farmers will need to think twice before using peas and beans to fulfil their ecological responsibilities, following changes to the 'greening' criteria for subsidy payments.

Norfolk vining peas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk vining peas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

The Basic Payment Scheme, through which the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) distributes EU support funding, requires farmers with more than 15 hectares of arable land to set aside 5pc of it as an 'ecological focus area' (EFA) – or risk losing a percentage of their payments.

These EFAs could include leaving land fallow, creating field margins, or planting catch and cover crops or nitrogen-fixing crops, such as peas and beans.

But the European Commission's updated greening rules, which will come into effect from 1 January 2018, have banned the use of plant protection products (PPPs) such as seed treatments and chemical sprays on these areas – making it less viable to grow a commercial crop.

Andrew Fundell, a partner in the Agricultural Business Consultancy team at the Norwich office of Brown and Co, said: 'Details are still emerging, but it is important for people who are considering their 2018 cropping now to be aware of this, because it might have implications on cropping decisions.

'With this being a vining pea growing area, many people in East Anglia would have chosen to use a nitrogen-fixing crop to meet their EFA requirements. But now if you want to use peas to meet this requirement, as you cannot use PPPs on them, you may need to find alternative ways to meet your EFA requirements.'

The ban on PPPs applies from the sowing of crops such as winter beans or cover crops –– even if this comes before January 1, 2018 – through to harvest.

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Other changes to BPS 2018 include:

· The EFA option for hedges now includes tree lines.

· Buffer strips and field margins can now be used to count towards EFAs, with a minimum width of one metre still applying.

· Catch crops must be in the ground for minimum of eight weeks and established no later than August 20 and retained until October 14.

· EFA nitrogen-fixing crops can now be comprised of a mixture of nitrogen fixing species, or a mix of nitrogen-fixing and non-fixing crops, as long as more than 50pc is nitrogen-fixing.

· Crop diversification rules now include multiple small areas of crops grown adjacently that would otherwise be too small to be eligible by themselves.

The RPA says it will publish more detailed guidance in due course, but in the meantime advises farmers to consider these updates in any cropping decisions being made for 2018.