By FWi staff

RECENTLY announced changes to 2001 IACS rules should provide extra flexibility to producers hit by wet weather and foot-and-mouth.

But the deadline for IACS returns remains 15 May and, despite a MAFF proposal to allow phone submissions to regional service centres (RSCs), the NFU is advising all farmers to send in the completed forms on time.

“Do not risk incurring any penalties, even if it means burning the midnight oil,” says chief arable adviser, Paul Ibbott.

Under the new guidelines, MAFF acknowledges that it may not be possible for all farmers to finalise their cropping and set-aside plans in time.

But, to avoid confusion, Mr Ibbott says it is important to let RSCs know if there are likely to be amendments at a later date and confirm this in writing.

A number of the proposed changes are yet to be confirmed by the European Commission, but it has already been agreed that land declared as being sown with arable crops or as forage can be changed to set-aside up to the last date for sowing.

It is hoped that this sowing date will be extended from 31 May to 15 June, but a MAFF spokeswoman said this would not be confirmed until the end of this week.

Poor sowing conditions could mean many crops fail to reach flowering stage and MAFF is lobbying for these to still qualify for payments.

Further restrictions will be lifted on holdings that have been affected by foot-and-mouth movement restrictions – IACS-eligible land can still be entered into set-aside even if it has been used for grazing since 15 January, and stock will also be able to graze fields designated as set-aside up to 30 days after restrictions have been lifted.

It will also be possible to use grass, hay, or silage from such fields as fodder when no alternative land is available. Farms directly affected by the cull can submit 100% of IACS-eligible land as set-aside.

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