Cross-compliance should be made less onerous, with more flexibility built in to avoid penalising farmers who make only minor infringements.
These are just two of the recommendations in a new report from the EU Commission into the application of cross-compliance. The study also calls for greater harmonisation in the number of spot checks carried out and in the notice periods given.
The report is based on 13 audits carried out in 10 member states in 2005 and 2006, which identified a number of problems in implementing the policy.
“The management of the system was felt to be burdensome,” says the report. “It was difficult to determine the practical elements with which farmers had to comply. In practice, there was little scope for exempting minor instances of non-compliance from reductions.”
To address these problems, the commission has made a number of proposals which it wants to implement from 1 January 2008.
“In particular, we want to see more tolerances built in,” said one commission official. Minor infringements, such as a miscalculation of stocking rates or a lost ear tag, should be dealt with by a warning letter and a follow-up visit, rather than the existing 1% deduction from a farmer’s single farm payment. A new de minimus rule should also be introduced to waive any penalty of less than €50 (£34).
The commission also wants to harmonise the percentage of farmers who are subject to cross-compliance inspections at 1%, and allow farmers up to 14 days’ notice of inspections. “However, controls on the identification and registration of animals, and on compliance with feed law, animal health and welfare rules, will remain in principle unannounced.”
Other changes in the pipeline include a proposal to limit an inspection to only half the farm, and to look for synergies with quality assurance schemes.
The NFU welcomed the proposals, especially the idea of reducing the chances of inspection to farmers involved in quality assurance schemes. “These farmers represent a lower risk and this is being recognised,” said head of policy services Andrew Clark.
Country Land and Business Association environmental adviser Ben Underwood praised the idea of giving farmers more notice ahead of inspections, though he was disappointed that this would not be extended to livestock farmers.