Monday, 31 March 2014

The last year of the Single Payment Scheme

This year is the last year in which farmers will receive EU support via the Single Payment Scheme and the deadline for completing this year’s application is beginning to loom on the horizon. This process should be reasonably straightforward provided there have been no major changes in the area of land being farmed but the impact of the reforms to the support system which will come in to force next year, need to be considered now.

This is because the new scheme, which will be known as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), includes new rules relating to so called “greening measures” which will need to be complied with in order that the farmer receives the payments in full. To the uninitiated the rules may seem reasonably straightforward, but in practice they are complicated and small changes in cropping patterns can have a major effect on whether or not the greening measures come in to force.

In simple terms the greening measures involve two main elements. First there is a requirement to introduce various levels of crop diversification if you farm over 10 hectares of arable land and second one has to introduce “ecological focus areas” (EFAs) amounting to 5% of your arable land if one farms over 15 hectares of arable land.

However, it is not as simple as that in that there are also a raft of exemptions which relate to the area of temporary or permanent grassland and how this area relates to either the total area of the farm or the arable area of the farm. These exemptions significantly complicate the application of the new scheme, particularly on relatively small mixed farms, many of which exist here in the West Country.

As a result farmers need to prepare themselves this year so that they know what crops need to be planted and in what proportions this autumn so as to be able to comply with the new rules.

As an example, last week I analysed one client’s cropping pattern and discovered that if he retained one particular field in grass next year rather than planting it to a crop, he could avoid both the crop diversification and EFA rules. If on the other hand he was to plant a crop in the land, my client would have had to comply with both the crop diversification and EFA rules.

What this means is that farmers need to plan carefully now for next year so as to minimise the impact of the new rules on their farming system, otherwise a relatively small change in cropping pattern could have a significant impact on their ability to comply with the new scheme rules next year and hence receive their support payments.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

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