As landowners drum their fingers, waiting for the sound of a cheque dropping through the letterbox, contractors too are feeling the strain of the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

Not only is the financial grip of the farm payment taking its toll, but we are also trying to get to grips with the practical implications of cross-compliance.

While the frustrations of the paperwork have been a headache for landowners, there have also been difficult questions about the best way forward.

In the process of deliberations, many have decided that they will bring in contractors to take over specific operations or in some cases the whole job.

The business decision made – and it can be a hard one – it would be a mistake to relax and assume that the contractors will just turn up and get on with the jobs they have been asked to do.

Why?

Cross-compliance. If you fail to take it seriously, bang may go the annual payment.

If you fail to deliver your part of the bargain over Entry or Higher Level Stewardship Schemes a similar risk applies.

With all this at stake, it follows that both your interests and those of the contractors are best served by sitting down together to define the jobs as closely as possible.

Your contractor needs to know just how far they can plough up to the hedge without compromising the agreed margins.

They must be aware of your soil management plan and must understand your policy for weed control, habitat, hedgerow and field margin management.

Also, it is important full information is provided on public rights of way and any considerations such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.

If your contractors are well-informed you must expect them to ask questions and even query your judgement.

Do not be offended. Such questions are usually gentle reminders about things which you might have overlooked and are offered in the name of good working relationships.

After all, no contractor wants to be held responsible for a cut in a customer’s payment – not exactly good for the reputation.

Indeed, there is a very real threat of a significant payment cut if negligent, or worse still intentional, breaches of the cross-compliance requirements are discovered.

The Cross-Compliance Handbook for England states very clearly that landowners are held responsible if they – or someone else acting on their behalf – gets it wrong.

Not only are payment penalties risked, but there is also a chance that, in extreme circumstances, the land owner may be excluded in a subsequent year.

To protect everyone, the best way forward is to talk things through with your contractor and put something down in writing before any work is started, about what you want done, exactly where and at what times.

Even better, provide a few simple maps showing, for example, the location of public footpaths, watercourses and the width and siting of field margins.

A professional contractor should be ready to co-operate and ensure that every possible effort is made to carry out work accurately to ensure your payment is not put at risk.

After all, that cheque dropping through your door will inevitably pay the contractor’s bills too.

jill.hewitt@naac.co.uk