Newmarket: Don’t leave CAP plans too late, farmers warned

Julie Robinson, Guy Smith, Phil Bicknell and Elizabeth Ranelagh at the CAP reform meeting at Newmarket on Monday, June 16. Julie Robinson, Guy Smith, Phil Bicknell and Elizabeth Ranelagh at the CAP reform meeting at Newmarket on Monday, June 16.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
1:18 PM

East Anglian farmers were warned to start planning early on new subsidy rules which come into force next year when they met this week.

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NFU Chief Economist Phil Bicknell speaking at Newmarket Racecourse.NFU Chief Economist Phil Bicknell speaking at Newmarket Racecourse.

Hundreds of farmers packed into Newmarket Racecourse on Monday night to find out how new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules will affect their farm businesses.

About 300 farmers came to hear from the very latest on regulations which will change the way many businesses operate in the East of England.

The new rules include requirements for most farmers to grow a minimum of three crops on their land and to designate five percent of their arable land as an ecological focus area.

And though clarification is still needed on certain aspects of the new regime, the message from the meeting was: “Don’t leave it too late to plan for CAP 2015.”

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) vice-president Guy Smith, who chaired the meeting, said one major change was the switch to online-only applications from next year.

“If there’s one word of advice it’s start early and get adjusted to the new system well in advance of the 15 May cut-off date. Don’t leave this to the last minute. It’s going to be a challenge and not one to be under-estimated,” he said.

The meeting was organised jointly by NFU East Anglia and solicitors Roythornes, with a panel comprising NFU chief economist Phil Bicknell, Elizabeth Ranelagh from the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and Roythornes’ partner Julie Robinson.

Mr Bicknell outlined the rules regarding the new Basic Payment Scheme, including eligibility, entitlements and greening. He said there had been a lot of uncertainty around greening, and some misunderstandings, but it was mandatory with financial penalties for non-compliance.

He urged farmers to check regularly for guidance on the NFU and Defra websites and to identify any potential issues with their cropping plans for 2015.

Elizabeth Ranelagh said the greening requirements would not change in the short-term and they should be seen as an opportunity to improve farm biodiversity.

“They are not ideal and some will see them as a step backwards but we do face the possibility of something worse if we don’t make greening work. Efforts to help all pollinators, not just bees, are a crucial part of this,” she said.

“About 30% of food globally relies on pollinating insects so this is an incredibly important matter.”

Julie Robinson said one consequence of the new system would be the need for more formal agreements, for example where a farmer rented land from another farmer to grow carrots or potatoes. She said it meant that the traditional handshake could be a thing of the past.

The panel spent an hour answering members’ questions about the new scheme. Mr Bicknell said that the NFU will also be organising further CAP roadshows in October and November to help members plan for the new system.

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