GET TO grips with cross-compliance or risk losing Single Farm Payment eligibility, urges Farmacy”s Simon Gaddes.

Under it, growers must show they keep their land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition and comply with Statutory Management Requirements.

Most of the legislation has been around for years, but the emphasis has changed, warns Mr Gaddes.

The Environment Agency and local authorities can influence payments.

“They will be getting involved in inspection and enforcement activities.”

Rights of way are a good example. “In the past, the local authority would have been involved. Now that same authority can report to the Rural Payments Agency and impose sanctions.”

SMRs are based on familiar existing legislation like the Groundwater, Sewage Sludge and Wild Birds Directives. But these now have more teeth. “Therefore, make sure you understand fully what they mean.”

Within GAEC, there are two elements; soil management and protection and maintenance of habitats and landscape features.

“Some are current, such as set-aside. Others will be introduced in the next six months. Feb 1 will see new guidance for soil management.”

Farmers should become familiar with the nuances and exceptions, he advises. “Buffer strips will have quite an impact. How many people are aware that they can be incorporated into the 6-10m set-aside strips?”

Hedgerow management guidance takes effect from March. “There”s a list of dos and don”ts. But there are exceptions which become relevant if an overgrown hedge is threatening road safety. That”s why it”s necessary to understand the detail.”

DEFRA has yet to confirm certain issues. “What isn”t yet clear is how the inspectorate will deal with non-compliances,” says Mr Gaddes. “If it”s anything like IACS, there will be great attention to the smallest detail.”

Record-keeping to justify payments becomes even more important and all growers should have a good system in place before 2005, he says.

Set-aside management needs forethought. “There are new 6-10m strips coming in, which will need to be established next season. Planning will make sure that the best use is being made of new measures.”

Field margin management has implications for the Entry Level Scheme. “Cross-compliance and set-aside are distinct from ELS. But growers should look at how ELS will fit on the farm. The schemes will have to mesh to be workable.

” With so many different issues to tackle, growers may find they need to consult more than one adviser.

“What you need is the confidence that cross-compliance has been dealt with on your farm when you make an SFP application. If it helps, break it down into existing measures and elements which will impact later in the year.

“If you need help, use a consultant or adviser. Without cross-compliance, you won”t be eligible for the SFP.”

[points box] Cross-compliance Understand GAEC & SMR differences Get familiar with legislation New agency inspections Record-keeping essential Plan set-aside management Consult advisers for clarification [panel] ENDS.610.WORDS