Moving support from field area to field edge
Current EU support is paid
on each hectare, inevitably
favouring larger farms and
penalising small ones. But
why not ease small farms
costs by paying it on each
metre of field edge, says
Oxon farmer Stephen Hart?
CERTAINTIES are few and far between in farming, but one of the more inevitable ones is that subsidies will gradually shift away from production towards environmental, social and employment objectives.
But how to achieve that in a way that is fair to farmers and gives maximum protection to what the public views as desirable countryside? One way would be to switch support away from field area to field edge.
For it is the field edges – the hedges, banks, dykes, woodland edges and rivers – that provide the wildlife habitats and landscape features that society values. Yet for the farms that have them in abundance they bring extra countryside management costs with, in most cases, no compensation.
Moving support away from field area to field edge would neatly decouple support from farm output, too, something that will be important in the next round of World Trade Organisation negotiations. It will also hasten the much-talked-of level playing field within UK farming, channelling extra funding towards farming in marginal areas and away from more productive areas that may not need or justify present support levels.
This approach would bring other benefits too. Knowing that field edge payments would be compensating for the extra costs of farming small fields, farmers would be more inclined to take a sympathetic approach to the management of hedges, trees, walls etc. It would also reinforce in the publics eye farmers roles as traditional countryside stewards.
What happens at the moment?
Despite the 1992 MacSharry reforms, CAP support is still dominated by production-linked area and headage support payments. So, of the £3bn of farm support Britain received in 1995/96, just £80m (less than 3%) went on environmental schemes.
Both the EU and UK agree that farm support needs to be shifted away from production and towards environmental and social aims, yet so far theres been little agreement on how to do it. For a start, the UK is mainly interested in protecting landscapes and wildlife, while most other EU countries are more worried about supporting farming communities and rural employment.
Present CAP support regimes clearly favour large farms with large fields. They benefit both from higher total area payments and economies of scale of operation and their countryside management costs are generally lower.
Smaller farms in western and northern Britain, on the other hand, usually have more of the type of landscape that the rest of society values and wants to sustain. Yet the more of these desirable features the countryside has – small fields, hedges, trees, stone walls, woods etc – the more difficult and expensive it is to farm around them.
Despite these extra costs, many of these farms are not in less-favoured areas (LFAs) nor receive environmental support under the environmentally sensitive area (ESA) scheme. Yet – in effect – those in the most scenically attractive areas of the country provide a free environmental service for the public with very little recompense.
Whats the answer?
• Continue the present system of area and headage payments, but (in line with WTO agreements) gradually reduce the amount paid.
• Pay them on a deficiency basis (like sheep premiums and oilseeds regimes at the moment) rather than on a forecast basis.
• A large part of the funds released would then be used to meet the higher costs of farming and of maintaining landscape/wildlife features across the non-urban area of the UK, estimated to be more than £1bn/year.
How might it work?
• The smaller the field, the higher are the unit costs of working it (see table 1) and the more field-edge there is for each hectare of area. So why not pay (say) £1/m of field edge to compensate for this, with further help to those with smaller fields by starting compensation at 120m of field edge/ha? Very small fields (ie less than 0.5ha) would need to be counted as part of the adjacent field.
• Give extra payments for field-edge features like hedges, walls, trees, woods or streams (see table 3).
• Make specific payments for field margins used as barriers against fertilisers and sprays and for the creation of new wildlife habitats in line with the new trial arable stewardship scheme.
These proposals are based on field size rather than farm area. They aim to make the financial return from small or more difficult fields as good as that from bigger fields.
Operating the scheme
The scheme would run in a similar way to IACS, with an annual self-assessment by each farm business and rigorous independent monitoring of randomly-selected farms or fields.
Farms already operating within IACS and ESA would have agreed farm maps, on which the details of field edges and other features would be marked. Farms not within one of these schemes would need to prepare new farm maps.
WHAT IT COULD ACHIEVE
• Aid decoupled from production and transferred to the stewardship costs of farming.
• Area payments kept as a means of encouraging certain systems (eg organic) and crops. Also to provide a flexible deficiency payment system.
• Farm profits spread more evenly throughout the industry.
• ESA-type support would be available to all farms, but with much less administration.
• Landscape and habitat protection encouraged.
• Greatly reduces pressure to increase field size by removing hedges.
• Slow down the move to contract and share farming and improve prospects for family farms.
• Production can still be controlled by set-aside, field margins and extensification.
• Modulation becomes almost irrelevant.
Table 1: Extra costs of operations in small or difficult fields
Field size (ha) 2 4 8 10 20 40 80
Implement width Workrate (ha/day at 6kph forward speed)
1m 1.8 2.2 2.5 2.5 2.8 2.9 3.1
3m 4.6 5.9 7.1 7.4 8.3 8.9 9.4
5m 6.4 8.6 10.8 11.4 13.1 14.4 15.3
8m 8.4 12.1 15.9 17.1 20.6 22.7 24.3
10m 9.2 13.7 18.7 19.0 24.3 27.7 30.0
12m 9.9 15.0 20.9 22.7 28.2 32.3 35.4
20m 11.5 18.9 28.0 31.3 40.9 49.4 55.8
Source: Sturrock et al, Cambridge 1977
Notes: (1) Workrate falls sharply on smaller fields because of time wasted turning and moving from field to field, as well as limitations on using wider implements.
(2) Small fields also generally have more "features" to manage – eg repairing walls, maintaining hedges and ditches, cutting back woodland edges and removing fallen trees and branches.
(3) As well as lower workrates, smaller fields also lead to higher labour costs. So one man/50ha is often needed where fields are small, compared to one man/200ha on farms where fields are larger.
Table 2: Payments (£) for the three 15ha blocks of land (see diagram below)
Field boundary Other features Area Total
Field Area Hedgerow Woodland River Hedgerow Total Uncropped Footpath Gates Arable
(ha) edge @40p/m trees less margin @25p/m trees £100/ha
@£1/m @50p/m 120m/ha Grass
Single Double 2m @ 6m @
@12p/m @24p/m 10p/m 30p/m
A 15 – 71 – – 10 – – – – – 1500 1581
B 15 54 71 316 190 21 – 158 – 118 20 1500 2448
C1 2.5 55 – 158 – 7 332 – 190 39 20 250 1051
C2 2.5 37 – 158 63 3 332 – 190 – – 250 1033
C3 2.5 73 – – – 101 332 – 190 39 10 250 904
C4 2.5 56 – – 63 3 332 – 190 – – 250 894
C5 5.0 55 71 – 63 17 348 – – 39 10 650 1283
C 15 – – – – – – – – – – – 5165
Stephen Hart began his farming career as a tenant on 73ha (180 acres) in 1954. He now farms 530ha (1300 acres) near Reading as part of a family partnership where the main enterprises are arable and sheep. He was the 1997 MLC sheep farmer of the year.
Many farmers already give a high priority to their hedges. Lancs dairy farmer David Thistlethwaite has planted 4200m of hedges in the last five years.
The costs of managing small, hilly fields are much
higher than those of large flat ones. Stephen Harts
proposed aid changes would take account of this.
Right:How three different 15ha blocks (two of them farmed as single fields and one divided into five fields) would fare under the new system.
The proposed system of payments would still include area payments for arable crops and grassland, but these would be gradually reduced. The payments would also be worked out on a deficiency payment basis, reflecting changes in the world price of a commodity over the previous 12 months.
For example, initial rates would be £120/ha for cereal crops at a wheat price of £100/t, rising to £155/ha at a wheat price of £90/t (ie a £35 change in aid for each £10 change in price.)
Animal headage payments would also be replaced by a flat-rate payment on each ha of grassland.
These payments would be supplemented by a payment for each metre of field edge (see table 4).
Michael Hogan, winner of the Midlands area of the LEAF/Amazone sustainable farming competition, is one of many farmers around the UK who take a great interest in the state and upkeep of their farm hedges.
Table 3: Suggested payments for field edge features
(paid on top of £1/m field edge)
Woodland edge* up to £1/m
Shelter belt** 50p/m adjacent to field
Hedges 12p/m adjacent to field excluding trees and gaps (double for both sides, eg roadside)
Single tree in arable £40 (Possibly more for small groups of fieldField trees, with a maximum field payment of
about £100/ha for any one field.)
Hedgerow trees 50p/m spread
Rivers and streams 40p/m
Lakes and ponds, managed £40 or 40p/m of edge length
Drainage ditches 20p/m
Footpaths, bridleways 25p/m
inside field boundaries
Footpath stiles and gates £10 each
Spray barrier field 10p/m for 2m strips and 30p/m for 6m margin strips, plus set-aside payment
* Woodland edge and shelter belt payments reflect the reduced crop yield next to woodland or shelter belts. The examples given assume a yield reduction of 30% on the 20m of land next to a wood, which would give a loss in income of £500/km of woodland edge. If the extra costs of grain drying, woodland edge management and rabbit clearance are added, this could represent an overall loss of as much as £1000/km (£1/m) of woodland edge.
** Defined as woodland less than 50m deep next to a field.
Such is the disadvantage of small fields, there will be no rush to subdivide with payments at the suggested level.
One of the factors behind the current crisis in the UK beef industry is the high countryside management cost on many beef farms – £120-£180/ha.
Table 4: Examples of payments for different sizes of field
Field area Dimensions Edge length Edge Length Qualifying Qualifying
a ha edge length payment
(ha) (m) (m) (m/ha) (m/ha)* (£/ha)
0.5 58 x 86 288 576 456 456
1 82 x 122 408 408 288 288
2 115 x 174 578 289 169 169
4 163 x 246 818 204 84 84
8 232 x 345 1,154 144 24 24
15 316 x 474 1,580 105 0 0
* After deduction of 120m of edge length/ha.
Notes (1) Field edge is defined as a permanent field boundary already marked on an IACS map or a new boundary submitted for inclusion in a revised map. The edges of very small fields that are part of local traditional farming (eg small bulb fields in the Scilly Isles), would be included, but otherwise any field less than 0.5ha in size would be combined with an adjacent field and the common field edges excluded from the calculation.
(2) Temporary fences dividing a field into paddocks for grazing would be excluded, as would non-stock-proof fences dividing grassland.