FARMERS WHO harvest crops from water-logged fields next year may have their farm support reduced, according to cross-compliance regulations soon to be published by the government.
The regulations are still officially confidential, but a draft version has been subject to a stakeholder consultation, and the final documents are expected to be made public in the next few weeks.
The new rules stipulate that farmers, in order not to have their support payments reduced, will not be able to perform “mechanical operations” such as harvesting in fields where the top soil is water-logged and water is standing on the surface.
This will apply to all agricultural and horticultural crops, and the intention is to protect soil from erosion and maintain soil structure, a DEFRA spokeswoman said.
Exceptions to the rules include situations in which human or animal welfare and safety are at stake or where farmers need to harvest their crops to fulfil commercial contractual obligations.
In addition, the rules will give the secretary of state the power to waive the cross-compliance requirements on behalf of farmers in “exceptional weather conditions” such as those that affected this year’s cereal harvest.
This prompted Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP and member of the select committee for the environment, food and rural affairs, to dub DEFRA minister Margaret Beckett a “rain goddess”, as she will have the power to decide “if or when farmers can make a living”.
As yet it is not clear if such declarations of “exceptional weather conditions” from the secretary of state will be made only on a national basis or whether more flexibility will be introduced according to local and regional conditions. More controversial is the seemingly arbitrary rule saying that farmers can access land if the soil is saturated only within 20 metres of the gateway and the rest of the land is unsaturated.
If, however, saturation extends beyond 20 metres access will not be allowed.
The NFU voiced its concern over the regulations. “We are concerned about the practical aspect.
“Farmers have customers, and these customers want products of a certain quality at a specific time, and we want the government to take this fully into account.
“For instance, orders from supermarkets are often not written contracts, something that may cause problems if proof of a commercial written obligation is required for farmers to be allowed to harvest from saturated fields.
“We are hopeful that the final documents will reflect our concerns,” said Phil Hudson, the NFU’s horticultural adviser.