Farming opinion: Small farms ‘could be losers’ in CAP three crop green rule

Ed Barker, CLA Ed Barker, CLA

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
6:00 AM

The business practices of many landowners in Suffolk and Essex will have to be “fundamentally reassessed” due to the greening of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), writes CLA Agricultural Adviser Ed Barker.

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A crop being harvested from a field at Westhorpe in SuffolkA crop being harvested from a field at Westhorpe in Suffolk

In Suffolk and Essex, and across the arable east of England, the biggest concern regarding the CAP without question is the three crop diversification element. Many farmers, particularly smaller arable holdings or those with contract farming agreements may have to fundamentally reassess their business practice as a result of the cropping rules under new greening criteria.

The top line regulations of CAP will make it mandatory across the EU for those growing more than 30ha (74.2 acres) of arable to have a minimum of three crops on their land in 2015. On top of that, they will also have to comply with the Ecological Focus Area (EFA) criteria and put at least 5% of that arable area into specific environmental options.

The CLA have repeatedly stated that the proposed cropping rules are arbitrary and represent an unnecessary burden on businesses. It is deeply ironic that this 
is a measure to improve the green credentials of farming; however for many farms it will increase the number of farming operations taking place across East Anglia.

Forcing a 40ha farm to grow a minimum of three crops seems illogical. It goes against the spirit of the free market and allowing landowners and farmers to decide what crop is right for their business. Many farms are going to have to decide whether or not a third crop should be grown only as a ‘sacrificial’ part of their land, or whether a third crop can viably be grown without affecting profitability of the other two. Whatever the outcome, neither choice is welcome, and will no doubt hit the profitability and productivity of the 
region’s farms.

Many farmers have, quite reasonably, asked why we cannot instead have a mandatory crop rotation approach. The problem is that this rule has to be applied on an annual level, and auditors wouldn’t know that a farmer is not rotating fully until years three and four. Each claim occurs in an annual cycle and the rules have to reflect that. In other words it is purely an auditing reason why we don’t have crop rotation instead.

We’re a lot further on with the policy process than we were at the beginning of the year. A public consultation was rolled out by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affrairs (DEFRA) at the end of 2013 in order for some decisions to be made before the New Year. The modulation rate had to be decided, as did greening. It was for that reason DEFRA chose to canvas the opinion of stakeholders as the only formal consultation, so it was clear where stakeholders, such as the CLA, and the public, stood.

We are now in the position where each European member state, each government, all now have to look at the options available to them, some mandatory, some discretionary, and take the decision as to whether they will fit within their own national systems and how they are going about doing it.

It is worth stating that we have really been supportive of DEFRA’s approach to this round of CAP reform. The message we are getting from civil servants and ministers is that they want to minimise unnecessary bureaucracy and burdens on farmers, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and DEFRA. Minimising the cost of setting up this new scheme will be good for both the farmer and taxpayer.

DEFRA are working under a more constrained EU budget this time around and they want to minimise any of the disallowance risks that hampered the department in the past. The way to do this is to make things as simple as possible; if we can minimise complication at every opportunity then we are giving ourselves a fighting chance of making the new rules understandable for all claimants.

The CLA has been involved with DEFRA and the RPA throughout the CAP reform process and we are actively seeking to shape the new scheme to ease the burden on our members. Anyone with questions regarding CAP should visit the CLA’s stand at the Suffolk Show on 28 and 29 May or the Cereals Show in Cambridgeshire on 11 and 12 June, and alk to our expert staff.

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