More than 116,000 SPS claim forms and guidance notes have been sent out to English farmers and growers, and there is just one month left to get them back to the Rural Payments Agency. Philip Clarke looks at what is new for 2008

With the Single Payment Scheme now into its fourth year, you might have thought that the annual form-filling exercise would have become second nature – not exactly something to be done with your eyes shut, but certainly less onerous than in the past.

And it is true that this year’s forms have a familiar look and feel about them.

But there are a number of important changes – probably more than in previous years – that everyone needs to be aware of. Some of these have come about as a result of consultation between the RPA and stakeholders in a quest to make the process simpler, but most are down to changes in the scheme rules.

Payments

For example, a new EU regulation means that, from 16 October 2008, all payments from the RPA have to go directly into the claimants’ bank account by BACS transfer. Payments by cheque will no longer be allowed.

If the RPA does not have bank account details – and according to an RPA spokeswoman that applies to about 25% of farmers – the claimant must complete a bank details registration form (SP12). This has been included in application packs to those claimants whose bank details are currently not held. Copies are also available on the RPA’s website.

The completed and signed form should be returned with the 2008 SPS application form (SP5), or else the RPA will not be able to make a payment.

Set-aside

The set-aside rate for 2008 has been set at zero. But you will still need to have sufficient set-aside eligible land to meet your set-aside entitlements.

This land does not have to be taken out of production or managed as set-aside in order to activate set-aside entitlements. But if you do choose to keep a proportion of your land out of production, it must be kept in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition.

On the field data sheet, areas that were set-aside last year will be coded OT2, (apart from non-food crops which will have been prepopulated OT1). If that land is now planted, the appropriate crop code must be entered in the adjacent box, for example OT1 for cereals.

10-month rule

The old rule that required you to have eligible land at your disposal for 10 months has been scrapped. Instead, the claimant only needs to have the land at his disposal on 15 May of the scheme year.

But the claimant will still be responsible for making sure that cross compliance requirements are met for the whole calendar year, even if the claimant is not in occupation of the land for the entire year.

So, even if the land is sold or leased after 15 May, the claimant must ensure that the new occupier maintains it in line with the cross compliance requirements if he is to guarantee his single farm payment. “We urge farmers to take this into account when transferring land or entering grazing agreements,” said the spokeswoman.

The RPA also points out that this rule change was only confirmed by Brussels after the SP5 forms had been printed, so the 10-month section still appears on the front of the SP5 form (question B2). “If pre-populated, ignore it. If blank enter 30 April 2008 in both boxes, A and B,” she advised. “And when column C10 is blank, enter “A” on the field datat sheet.”

FVP authorisations

The Fruit, Vegetable and Potato (FVP) authorisation system has been abolished from 2008. These crops are now eligible to be claimed against Normal and National Reserve entitlements without the need for FVP authorisations.

Energy Crops

In the past, to claim the additional aid for energy crops, worth €45/ha, two delivery declarations would have to be supplied to the RPA – one from the farmer and one from the collector/processor. From 2008, only one declaration need be returned, signed by both parties.

“Delays in sending in the delivery declarations holds up the farmer’s payments,” said the spokeswoman. “By simplifying it, we hope they will get the declarations back much sooner.”

Activation of entitlements

As in the past, the RPA will activate as many entitlements as are supported by the eligible hectares on which you claim (in column C8 of the SP5 form).

These will be activated so that the highest value entitlements are paid first – set-aside, national reserve, normal and special. But, in a new development, you can change this order, for example if you have entitlements with a lower value, but an earlier “use by date”.

To do this, you must contact the RPA to request an SP11 “order of entitlements activation form”, or download a copy from the RPA website.

What else is new?

  • To reduce the size of the form, the RPA has dropped the pages relating to common land, (Part CA: Common land grazing rights), unless the farmers has claimed on this in the past.
  • A new column, C13, has been added to the field data sheet, so that farmers can tick off each parcel of land as it has been checked or amended.
  • Field names have been pre-populated for the first time.

Other key points

  • Make sure your Single Business Identifier (SBI) and business name are still correct. If not, do not write them on the form – contact the Customer Service Centre for a replacement form.
  • For 2008, the RPA will only be able to accept field data information submitted on original RPA sheets. It will not accept non-RPA computer generated sheets, though forms may be submitted electronically using Farmplan’s SPS Planner software.
  • If you run out of space on the field data sheet, continuation sheets can be requested by calling the Customer Service Centre (0845 603 7777) or collected from a Drop-in Centre.
  • f you need to provide additional information with the SP5, complete Part F to tell the RPA what documents are being enclosed. Make sure to use the sticky bar codes that the RPA sent out in January to help identify the claim.
  • Where the pre-printed answer in green is correct, you do not need to alter or re-write the information. But if it needs changing, this is done by completing the adjacent boxes. Do not strike through the error, or write the correct figure outside the boxes, as this will confuse the RPA’s scanners.
  • If the land parcel needs deleting in Part C of the form, mark a cross in the delete box, column C9, (or CA4 on common land).
  • You should check that all of your land parcels are pre-printed correctly on your form. Any missing or additional land parcels should be included on the next available blank lines.
  • Column C7 has been pre-printed with your 2007 land use code. Where the land use has changed, you should replace it with the correct 2008 land use code.
  • Finally, check that you have signed your SP5 form and any other forms enclosed and return them, using the envelope provided and making sure you fix the correct postage.

“We advise you to make and keep a copy of your form and obtain a receipt of delivery which clearly identifies that the item sent to RPA is your SPS application,” said the RPA spokeswoman.