DEFRA Reveals Key SFP Info:By Isabel Davies

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Farmers with fields that are 2ha (4.9 acres) or under will escape the requirement to have a 2m margin next to their hedges and ditches, junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty confirmed on Tues (Nov 2). Any hedges planted after Jan 1, 2005 will also be exempt from the rule for the first five years of their existence.

Other key decisions announced by Lord Whitty include the fact that all of the four devolved regions have decided that new entrants will be entitled to an allocation from the national reserve.

New entrants will be classed as anyone who entered the farming industry on or before Nov 2, 2004 and do not have entitlement to the historic element of the single farm payment.

Farmers who took part during the reference period in a nationally funded agri-environment scheme will also qualify for the national reserve under one of the automatic categories, it has been confirmed.

Producers who made investments in production capacity or purchased land by May 15, 2004, should also receive allocations from the NR. But the detailed method for determining the value of farmers” entitlements in these circumstances is still being finalised.

The reserve will be funded by a 3% reduction to all farmers’ support entitlements.

The minister also announced that land grazed by horses will be eligible for the area-based element of the single farm payment, if landowners are prepared to meet the cross-compliance conditions.

This will have implications for the overall rate of payment in England as DEFRA estimates that there could be up to 300,000ha (740,000 acres) of extra eligible land.

If all of this is claimed, it would increase the total area of claimed land by just under 5%.

The final decision DEFRA has made is that traditional grazed orchards may be eligible for SFP because of their dual use as forage.

But officials are still in discussions with the EU Commission over the criteria which will be used to see if an orchard is eligible.