Putting an ear tag on a cow© Wayne Hutchinson/FLPA/Rex Shutterstock

Support payments are declining year-on-year, so avoiding cross-compliance penalties is becoming ever more important. Charles Mayson, managing director of Cross Compliance Solutions, highlights some of the most common breaches in England.

SMR 7 – Cattle Identification and registration

Number of breaches in 2013: 950

Cattle identification and registration failures have led the field of most common breaches for years – more than half of cross compliance failures are related to identification and movement issues.

Main failures

  • Farmers moving cattle without passports
  • Failure to notify British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) that an animal has been moved to another holding
  • Missing ear tags

Tips to avoid penalties

  • Remember to fill in the correct movement records when moving cattle, even for short distances. If cattle are moved to another holding then the BCMS must be informed and the movement recorded in your own records
  • Watch out for missing ear tags and replace them immediately. Remember that the tag company notifies the BCMS when you order new tags, so they know when a tag has been lost.

SMR 4 – Nitrate-Vulnerable Zones

Number of breaches in 2013: 536

The next big problem is nitrate-vulnerable zone (NVZ) records. Very few farmers are overloaded with animals, but many are “under-loaded” on their farm calculations.

The penalty system

  • What do all these breaches cost in terms of lost subsidy payments? A 3% deduction is common, and 5% is often applied. Each breach can lead to a deduction, so they can certainly add up to a hefty penalty. And repeat offences get more expensive again.
  • If the breach is considered intentional then prepare for 20% off your payment, which will also include any environmental scheme payments. Rural Payments Agency officers consider the breaches from an extent, severity, reoccurrence and permanence viewpoint.
  • There is an appeal system for farmers who want to challenge their penalty.

Main failures

  • Missing or insufficient NVZ documentation. These include the loading calculation, manure spreading maps detailing no-spread zones and nutrient management plans
  • Temporary heaps of muck left in the same place for more than 12 months

Tips to avoid penalties

  • The farm-loading calculation is done on the basis of a calendar year. Calculate the farm loading by 30 April for the previous year. Animals and animal manures must be included, but not items such as sludge, paper waste or compost
  • Follow the formula the NVZ regulations prescribe: animal numbers and types, imports and exports of manures, and land available
  • Do the calculation at the end and get someone to double-check your sums
  • Make sure you have a manure-spreading map that shows no-spread margins around all watercourses. This applies whether you farm in or outside an NVZ
  • Record on your nutrient management plan the dates and rates of any applications, making sure there are no missing fields

GAEC 1 – Soil protection

Number of breaches in 2013: 534

GAEC 1 is to do with soil protection issues and nearly one-fifth of failures are in this area.

Main failures

  • Errors are usually paper-based
  • While the Soil Protection Review (SPR) book no longer needs to be filled out, farmers must show they are taking steps to prevent soil erosion

Tips to avoid penalties

  • Make sure the old SPR book (to the end of 2014) is up to date and keep it in case you are asked for it
  • Demonstrate steps taken to avoid erosion, especially into watercourses. This involves identifying vulnerable fields and then taking steps to minimise the risks, such as leaving a buffer strip at the bottom of a slope, avoiding, where possible, working soil into a very fine seed-bed, and adopting tillage techniques that minimise disturbance of the soil.

SMR 8 – Sheep and goat identification

Number of breaches in 2013: 246

Sheep movements between holdings are widespread and local authorities often find discrepancies when inspections occur.

Main failures

  • Most sheep movement offences are down to the old AML1 forms not existing. Records must be kept for five years
  • Farmers often mistakenly believe that short distances don’t count – however, it is not the distance, but the holding number. Are the animals travelling to a different holding number? That should be the test.

Tips to avoid penalties

  • No records are required if the movement is within five miles to land under the same holding number
  • Records are needed, however, if sheep are going to a different holding
  • Record temporary holding numbers
  • Record all holding numbers of the Arams forms and keep all forms on movement records for three years

GAEC 14 – Hedges and watercourses

Number of breaches in 2013: 221

This relates to breaches of the two-metre protection zone around fields. This year is a benchmark year for the Water Framework Directive, so watercourses are being examined for their quality. The Environment Agency is looking for elevated levels of pollutants. You can find out about your local rivers by looking at the “What’s in your backyard?” section for farmers on the Environment Agency website

Main failures

  • Destroying the two-metre protection zone (from the centre of the hedge or ditch) and the one-metre protection zone from the top of the bank next to a watercourse
  • Cutting hedges on the wrong date, as nesting birds must be protected

Tips to avoid penalties

  • Ensure the protection zone is not destroyed – so no spraying, no cultivating and no machinery or dredgings can be put on it. Make sure any contractors working for you are aware they must not jeopardise this
  • Plan ahead and ensure you cut hedges when you are allowed to. From 2015 hedges must not be cut until 1 September

SMR 18 – Animal welfare

Number of breaches in 2013: 148

Farmers must always protect the welfare of farmed animals by setting minimum standards for their care and husbandry. Fortunately, there are relatively few cases of prosecutable neglect in this country.

Main failures

  • Lack of accurate records of medicinal treatments, deaths and diseases
  • Not enough staff to care for the wellbeing of livestock
  • Buildings and equipment are inadequate to keep animals dry and warm in adverse weather conditions

Tips to avoid penalties

  • One remedy must surely include a review of whether you should keep livestock at all. If it doesn’t pay to do it well, then it can’t pay to do it badly
  • Keep good, accurate records of diseases and treatments for at least three years
  • Make sure you feed animals adequately, buildings are in good condition and all staff are trained to look after your livestock properly

GAEC 19 – No-Spread Zones

Number of breaches in 2013: 94

No-spread zones cause trouble for about one in 10 claimants.

Main failures

  • Spreading manures too close to a ditch
  • Lack of a map that shows where to spread and where not to
  • Applies to farmers outside the NVZ as well as inside

Tips to avoid penalties

  • The general rule is that farmers must not apply manufactured nitrogen within two metres of surface water and organic manure within 10 metres of surface water
  • Get an accurate map and mark the areas to be avoided to prevent spreading too close to the ditch

SMR 9 – Plant protection products

Number of breaches in 2013: 82

Incomplete record-keeping about the use of sprays can trip a farmer up if they are subject to an inspection.

Main failures

  • While farmers may watch the weather like hawks to get the good spraying days, all too often the records of the spraying work are missing or inadequate.

Tips to avoid penalties

  • Get recommendations from your agronomist and fill in the lower half of the sheet, including details of the weather and spraying conditions, plus the operator’s number and signature
  • Record the MAPP number of products

SMR 11 – Food and feed law

Number of breaches in 2013: 65

You must make sure the production of food for human consumption and the production of feed that is fed to food-producing animals is safe.

  • Main failures
  • Feed not stored safely
  • Feed open and attracting vermin

Tips to avoid penalties

  • Keep food separate, weatherproofed and control vermin
  • Poisons and pollutants must be kept clear of animal feed
  • Do not allow farm dogs or birds to foul bulk feed stores

GAEC 9 – Public Rights of Way (RoW)

Number of breaches in 2013: 58

Ignoring rights of ways leaves you open to penalties and there are ramblers out there looking out for any breaches of public rights of way.

Main failures

  • Failure to spray off crops along a footpath
  • Livestock in fields with a right of way may be dangerous to the public and prosecutions can result

Tips to avoid penalties

  • Regularly walk the rights of way across your land to check for obstructions and dangers
  • Make good the surface of cross-field footpaths and bridleways to not less than the minimum width within 14 days of the first disturbance if you are sowing a crop, or within 24 hours in all other circumstances
  • Care must be taken in the selection of livestock to go in fields with footpaths – cows with calves can be aggressive

Please note: The GAECs and SMRs have been renumbered since 2013, so the numbers of some rules will be different in the 2015 handbook.