By Andrew Shirley

CROSS-COMPLIANCE rules are putting farmers trying to produce the welfare-friendly pigs demanded by consumers at a disadvantage, says a Wilts producer.

 Chris Bates said his 17-year-old son had set up a business extensively rearing Gloucester Old Spots on 8ha (20 acres) of land, but their landlord was not prepared to continue extending their short-term grazing licence any more.

This was because he had been advised that any breach of soil management regulations by the pigs, even if they did not belong him, could jeopardise the entire single farm payment on the rest of his 405ha (1000-acre) holding, said Mr Bates.

DEFRA guidelines say failure to cross-comply could result in a claimant being docked 3% of their total SFP claim in the first instance, and up to 15% for future violations. If the lapses are considered intentional the entire payment could eventually be forfeit.

Mr Bates, who lost his house and 100,000 during foot-and-mouth, said his quarrel was not with the landlord, but with the government for not allowing more flexibility when interpreting cross-compliance rules. “It”s typical. I feel we are being unfairly discriminated against.”

DEFRA said: “We are aware that some farmers are concerned about the compatibility of outdoor pigs with cross-compliance, and we plan to set out a position on this shortly. However, due to the complexity of the issues involved it is, unfortunately, not possible to give a detailed response immediately.”

Carl Atkin, of rural consultant Bidwells, said it was possible for landowners to avoid exposure to potential fines by renting out the land in question under a more formal agreement. Tenants could then include it on their own SFP claim forms and be liable for cross-complying.

But many landlords were not keen to do this because it meant the tenant and not themselves receiving the single farm payment, even though it was possible to insert a clause in the agreement to ensure any SFP entitlement was passed back to them at the end of the tenancy, said Mr Atkin.

National Pig Association regional manager Ian Campbell said there was a “lot of nonsense” being talked and some people were being unduly pessimistic. “There is a fear factor.”

Provided units were on the right type of soil – free-draining and light – it should still be possible to cross-comply, Mr Campbell reckoned. “All the words emanating from DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency suggest they are going to be pragmatic and work with the industry to achieve best practice.”

 andrew.shirley@rbi.co.uk