tractor in field ©Jonathan Page

The proposed new ecological focus areas could hit cropping decisions this autumn, ready for the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme claim. Nick Francis, of agricultural consultancy KinnAgri, answers some key questions.

What is an EFA?

An ecological focus area (EFA) is one of the three obligations – along with the crop diversification and maintenance of permanent pasture – required to secure the 30% greening payment, which is to be paid in addition to the basic payment scheme from 2015.

See also more stories on CAP reform

The purpose of an EFA is to make payments “for agricultural practices beneficial for climate and the environment” – basically by having a number of “landscape features” on the holding. It is an EU-wide obligation, including in the new member states, but there is some national government discretion on implementation.

Do I need an area of EFA?

If a claimant has more than 15ha of arable land, then yes, 5% of the arable area must be classified as an EFA. This could rise to 7% in 2017 if an EU study backs the move. There are exemptions for farms with a large proportion of grass.

In practice, many claimants will not have to put 5% of their arable area into EFA because their landscape features will count towards meeting the obligations. For example, an isolated in-field tree counts as 30sq m of arable land.

How features contribute to the 5% EFA obligation

Feature

Conversion factor

Weighting factor

EFA

Land lying fallow (per 1sq m)

n/a

1

1sq m

Terraces (per 1sq m)

2

1

2sq m

Landscape features:

  1. Hedges/wooded strips (per 1m)

5

2

10sq m

  2. Isolated tree (per tree)

20

1.5

30sq m

  3. Trees in line (per 1m)

5

2

10sq m

  4. Field margin (per 1m)

6

1.5

9sq m

  5. Ponds (per 1sq m)

n/a

1.5

1.5sq m

  6. Ditches

3

2

6sq m

  7. Traditional stone walls

1

1

1sq m

Hectares of agro-forestry (per 1sq m)

n/a

1

1sq m

Areas with short rotation coppice such as willow (per 1sq m)

n/a

0.3

0.3sq m

Areas with catch crops or green cover (per 1sq m)

n/a

0.3

0.3sq m

Areas with nitrogen crops (per 1sq m)

n/a

0.3

0.3sq m

The European Regulations do allow farmers to group together to deliver their EFA obligations, or they can comply through a government scheme. But it seems unlikely that any regions of the UK will take this up, so it will in effect be 
a farm-by-farm obligation.

What counts towards an EFA?

Further details have recently emerged about the conversion and weighting factors to be applied for the landscape features.

In simple terms, features such as fallow land, which does not need to be rotated, buffer strips, hedges, trees, ponds, forestry and nitrogen-fixing crops all qualify, as outlined below.

The decision to allow fertiliser and agrochemical use on EFA land will be left to member state discretion. It seems unlikely DEFRA will want to impose restrictions.

How does this interact with other schemes?

This is the most difficult question and potentially the most important. The regulations do not allow double funding – potentially excluding ELS features from counting towards an EFA.

But the payments under stewardship schemes are for the management of the features, while the payments in greening are for their existence. DEFRA may be able to negotiate flexibility with the European Commission here.

It would seem a nonsense that farmers have to create extra EFA features, such as fallow, when ELS agreements only have a few years to run, for these extra features then to be pulled out of EFA and replaced with the features currently tied up in ELS when those agreements end. An alternative might be a wholesale change to ELS rules to allow some features to be withdrawn from ELS agreements to contribute to EFAs.

The existing cross-compliance margin (GAEC 14) of 2m from the centre of a hedge or 1m from the top of a ditch bank should qualify for an EFA contribution.

With the exception of the woodland options, the EFA must be on arable land.

How does this interact with the Rural Land Register?

There is no requirement for EFAs to be officially mapped until 2018, so in the initial years of the scheme it is thought the onus will be on the applicant to declare the features, backed up by inspection. However, this will mean walking and measuring features that, on some farms, could take up a few days.

How do I calculate my EFA requirements?

The calculations in the example are based on a KinnAgri managed farm in Cambridgeshire, where the ELS agreement has less than two years left to run. The hedges and ditches are currently all part of the ELS scheme.

The total BPS claim is 250ha, so the EFA area required is 12.5ha.

Estimated 2015 cropping

  • Sugar beet 28ha
  • Winter wheat 120ha
  • Pulses 37ha
  • OSR 54ha
  • Temporary grass 11ha
  • Total 250ha

Scenario 1 (see table below) assumes that hedges and ditches receiving management payments under an ELS scheme can contribute to EFA features. The farm comfortably achieves its EFA obligations.

In Scenario 2, it is assumed all ELS features will not contribute to the EFA obligations. Due to the high area of pulses, the farm also meets its EFA obligations.

Scenario 3 also assumes ELS features will not contribute to EFA obligations and replaces pulses with another combinable crop. The result of this is that the farm would only have 8.06ha of EFA obligations from field margins outside the ELS agreement. This would mean that 4.44ha worth of EFA would need to be found until the ELS agreement ends. If there are no other landscape features, this would probably have to be made up by having 4.44ha of fallow in the rotation.

Feature

Farm details

Equivalent EFA area sq m

Scenario 1: EFA area (ha) inc ELS features

Scenario 2: EFA area (ha) exc ELS features

Scenario 3: EFA area (ha) exc ELS features and no pulses

Areas with nitrogen crops (per 1sq m)

37ha

111,000

11.1

11.1

Hedges/wooded strips (per 1m)

1,340m

13,400

1.34

Ditches

8,747m

52,482

5.52

Field margin (per 1m)

8,950m

80,550

8.06

8.06

8.06

TOTAL

25.75

19.16

8.06

Target

12.50

12.50

12.50

EFA requirement surplus/shortfall (ha)

13.25

6.66­

-4.44

What’s the penalty if I don’t comply?

For the first two years (2015 and 2016), the penalty, although complicated to calculate, is limited to the loss of the greening payment, although this sanction can be imposed by degree depending on the level of failure to comply with the greening requirements. Taking direct payments as whole (ie BPS and greening), the greening element accounts for 30%.

Failure to meet the requirements for three years results in permanent loss of the greening payment for the remainder of the BPS. From 2017 onwards, additional fines could be levied worth up to 6% of the basic payment, rising to 7.5% in 2018.

Can I export my EFA requirement?

This is not totally clear. EFAs are supposed to be adjacent to the claimant’s arable land but depending on how tightly the rules are interpreted. In theory, trading EFA requirements (such as previously with set-aside entitlements) could be possible.

Overall impact

If the proposals are carried through to the final legislation and DEFRA adopts maximum flexibility then many farmers would not need to change practice. The biggest uncertainty is the interaction with existing ELS agreements and how this problem will be resolved.