Combine harvester in winter barley© Tim Scrivener

The “three-crop rule” which aims to ensure that farming practices benefit the environment will remain in place for the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme, Defra has confirmed.

The European Commission has not yet confirmed the full set of BPS greening rules which will apply for the 2017 scheme year.

This means that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) cannot publish full greening guidance at the moment.

See also: Increase in uncropped land – is three-crop rule to blame?

However, in a statement on its website, Defra confirmed:

  • There will still be three greening rules in 2017 (Crop Diversification (two- or three-crop rule), Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) and Permanent Grassland)
  • The spring/winter crops (PDF) list will remain the same as in previous years of the scheme
  • There are no major changes planned to the current CAP greening rules. But there could be minor changes, the RPA said.

Full greening guidance will be included in the BPS 2017 scheme rules early next year.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “Obviously there are some aspects of greening, such as the three-crop rule, that we want to see changed which we are frustrated to still see there.

“But on the plus side, we very much hope that when the RPA say there will be no major changes then pulses grown with inputs will still be allowed on EFA.

“There has been a concerted effort by the usual suspects to have this removed but we hope Defra have listened to us and kept it in.

“Good crops of peas and beans are good for stretched farm incomes and good for pollinators such as bees.”

Tom Harris, a business consultant and surveyor at land agents Berrys, added: “Although the UK voted for Brexit, nothing major is going to change for BPS schemes in 2017 as EU agri-environment schemes will still be in place.

“There could be minor changes to some of the options, such as hedgerows and legumes, but we are unsure about what they could be at this stage.”

Scottish ‘gold-plating’ concerns

On Monday (22 August), representatives from NFU Scotland held a meeting with Scottish farm minister Fergus Ewing in a bid to get Scottish government to strip out gold-plating from within Scotland’s greening rules.

NFUS believes more must be done to simplify and improve current implementation of greening in Scotland.

The union said Scottish farmers were at a “competitive disadvantage” compared with their English counterparts due to gold-plating on areas such as nitrogen-fixing crops, conversion factors when calculating EFA, grazing on buffer strips, management of fallow land and EFA options on forestry and hedges.

What is the three-crop rule?

EU agricultural ministers introduced the three-crop rule – or “crop diversification” – in December 2013 as part of CAP reform.

The rules oblige farms with more than 30ha of arable land to grow three crops and farms with more than 10ha to grow two crops. Small farms were excluded from the requirements.

The rules, which came into force from 1 December 2015, were described as “utter madness” by the NFU.

The union has repeatedly called on the EU to scrap the three-crop rule, arguing it increases costs, reduces efficiency, increases traffic on rural roads and could actually lead to environmental damage.