‘Plan early for sweeping CAP changes’, farmers told

Across the fields

Across the fields - Credit: citizenside.com

More than 100 farmers found out how sweeping changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will affect their businesses at a meeting in Suffolk yesterday.

NFU meeting on CAP reform, November 2014. Pictured are Richard Wordsworth (right) with Sam Durham

NFU meeting on CAP reform, November 2014. Pictured are Richard Wordsworth (right) with Sam Durham - Credit: Submitted

A team of National Farmers’ Union (NFU) experts said it was vital to prepare now for the changes they will face next year when they met with members at the Cedars Hotel in Stowmarket as part of an advice roadshow.

NFU CAP adviser Richard Wordsworth said: “Start early and engage early – don’t leave it until the last minute. This year more than a quarter of claims under the old scheme were submitted within the last seven days of the application window.”

The application process for the new scheme will be online-only. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has written to farmers who have not previously registered online to ask if they need help with the process. Mr Wordsworth said it was important to respond to this letter quickly as well.

“The RPA needs to know how much help is required so it can provide the right resources to meet that need. If farmers don’t respond, that help won’t be available,” he said.

The Stowmarket meeting was the last in a series of CAP roadshows held across the country by the NFU, covering the new Basic Payment Scheme, greening and new agri-environment schemes.

One of the greening requirements for farmers if they are not exempt is to include Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) on their farm if they have more than 15 hectares of arable land.

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NFU East Anglia environment adviser Rob Wise said it was good news that options under existing Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) or Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) environment schemes could count towards a farmer’s EFA.

“However, farmers should remember that the land must meet both the rules for EFA and also continue to meet the ELS/HLS conditions of the option to count for both schemes and they must be compatible,” he said.

“For example, hedges claimed under ELS/HLS can count as an EFA hedge and ELS/HLS margins can count for an EFA fallow or buffer strip.

“To qualify, the margins need to be on arable land and their management should not require fertiliser to be applied during the EFA fallow period of January 1 and to end of June.”

Mr Wise also briefed members on the new Countryside Stewardship scheme, which will replace ELS and HLS in 2016.

“Not everyone who is currently in an ELS or HLS agreement will get in to the new competitive schemes. All applications will be scored against targeted criteria for each location,” he said.

“We’re pressing Natural England to ensure the scoring system is transparent.”

The third speaker was Sam Durham, national coordinator for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.

He said that the success of greening would be reviewed in 2017 and more prescriptive measures could be introduced if it was adjudged to have failed. He urged farmers to continue with voluntary environmental measures on their farms, as promoted by the campaign.

“There are a lot of business benefits to environmental management. It’s not just about doing a bit of unpaid voluntary work on your farm,” he said.

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