Farmers in England attempting to complete their 2018 Basic Payment Scheme claims are finding major errors in the mapping data held on their hedges.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has introduced a new “hedge layer” this year that aims to show the length and location of any hedges that are eligible to count towards their ecological focus area (EFA) obligation.
It is anticipated that many more farmers will be looking to use hedges as EFAs in 2018 because of the ban on the use of plant protection products on nitrogen-fixing crops and fallow.
But farmers who have started to look at this information have discovered worrying levels of inaccuracies.
Dear RPA, Please could you add a feature ‘create hedges’, as 75% of our hedges have been left off the system. I assume now I need to do a lot of paperwork to get them added. Thank you.
— Samuel Topham (@samueltopham14) March 13, 2018
They are finding land parcels where hedges do exist in real life, but do not show on the RPA’s system, along with fictitious hedges appearing where they should not be.
Others are reporting difficulty in getting the hedging layer information to appear at all.
It’s amazing how the RPA can recognise a wall as a hedge yet they can’t recognise actual hedges. Another fun application period coming!
— David Robinson (@dcrobinson79) March 16, 2018
Purely out of interest, I just had a look at my hedge maps. I have 652m on a 10.29ha field. This interests me as we lifted the beet on Friday and to the best of my knowledge there are no hedges on the field. What a good Just I don’t use hedges for EFA.
— Robert (@waddledogie) March 15, 2018
Richard Wordsworth, NFU senior BPS adviser, said the union had already flagged the issue with the RPA and was pushing for further guidance and support.
The problem was most acute for growers who were looking to use hedges to meet their EFA requirements, he said.
However, the union was also very concerned about the implications if the hedge layer was used as a checking tool against agri-environment scheme claims.
“This is a huge problem for those who are affected and puts additional pressure on claimants when hedges could have been a quick and easy way to meet their EFA obligation,” said Mr Wordsworth.
“The current guideline from the RPA is that if you need hedges to meet your EFA and they aren’t showing on the hedge layer, you need to fill out an RLE1 form to get them added back in and cover your EFA hedge claim position.”
NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts said the situation was going to create more work for farmers and agents.
“Yet again, the industry is going to have to pick up the pieces and correct errors that are not of their making. Our advice to farmers is to log in to the online system and start looking at the information now, so you can check your mapping, read the guidance notes and start working things out.”
A tweet published on the RPA’s Twitter account on 14 March said: “If you aren’t using hedges for an agri-environment scheme or to meet your 5% EFA obligation, you won’t need to send in an RLE1 to tell us about any changes to the hedge layer.”
Farmers Weekly has contacted Defra for a comment on behalf of the RPA.