New soil protection cross-compliance rules came into force this year. Rebecca Barrett of the Farming Advice Service explains what farmers need to do to comply and avoid losing their payments.
What is cross-compliance?
Cross-compliance refers to the requirement for farmers to comply with a set of statutory management requirements (SMRs) and also to ensure that the land is in Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs) so that they can qualify for a full payment.
These standards apply to farmers who receive direct payments under certain rural development schemes or Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes. This includes the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
Why is cross-compliance important?
The two standards, SRMs and GAECs, apply to all farming practices across the entire agricultural holding irrespective of the amount of land entered into the scheme.
Failing to comply can lead to the loss of all or part of the payment.
What has changed for soil?
The cross-compliance soil management rules changed on 1 January 2015 and apply to all BPS and certain Pillar 2 claimants, so it is important that you are aware of how to comply with the requirements to safeguard your payments.
The previous GAEC requirement to complete and retain a Soil Protection Review has been replaced with a new set of national minimum standards.
What do they involve?
A key change is that the new rules require no paperwork, but are focused on the condition of the land. This will now be the primary area for inspection.
If you have a BPS or Environmental Stewardship inspection during 2015, a full land inspection will be conducted taking into account all parcels on the holding and payment reductions may be applied if you are not complying with the new requirements.
There are three key requirements to the new Soil Protection Standards, which are:
- Maintaining minimum soil cover
- Minimising erosion
- Maintaining good levels of soil organic matter
What does it mean by maintaining minimum soil cover (GAEC 4)?
You must take all reasonable steps to protect soil by maintaining minimum soil cover, by providing any of the following cover options:
- Vegetative cover from all types of crop, grass and herbaceous forage
- Cover crops and leguminous and nitrogen fixing crops (green manures)
- Game cover and crops planted for biodiversity
- Trees, coppice, fruit crops, hops, nursery crops or vines
- Overwintered stubble from combinable crops
- Other stubbles and crop residues, such as vegetable, maize and sugar beet.
There are exemptions to this rule, if there is agronomic justification for not establishing cover or if establishing a cover would conflict with the requirement to minimise soil erosion (GAEC 5).
- Land is being prepared as a seed-bed, and the land is sown within 14 days of preparation, where conditions allow
- Managed land used for pest, disease and weed control including for example, land that has been cultivated or ploughed to prevent weeds going to seed
- Land used for the installation and maintenance of field drains
- Areas created for agri-environment schemes or greening, or for the purpose of establishing habitat conditions beneficial to biodiversity or wildlife
- Land is heathland to which restoration techniques are being applied
- Heather and grass burning (see GAEC 6)
- Land used for outdoor pig or poultry production or overwintered livestock where it is not reasonably practicable to maintain cover due to the actions of the animals
- Land where the action of frost on the land over winter is used to break down the soil naturally to create a seed-bed for spring cropping
- Peatland that is bare for historic reasons
- Land which is bare for the purposes of removing turf for non-fuel purposes.
How do you go about getting an exemption?
Details of acceptable agronomic justifications and soil cover are set out in The guide to cross-compliance in England 2015 and the Cross compliance in England: soil protection standards 2015 guidance.
If you have a suitable agronomic justification that is not listed in the guidance, you will need to apply for a derogation from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
Your request needs to be sent in writing by email (email@example.com) or by post (Rural Payments Agency, PO Box 300, Sheffield S95 1AA) and should include your Single Business Identifier (SBI), details of the fields affected and information about why you are requesting a derogation.
You must have written confirmation that a derogation has been granted before you take advantage of the unlisted agronomic justification.
If you have an RPA inspection, the inspector will have details of any derogation that has been granted for your farm in advance of the inspection. If one of the listed agronomic justifications apply, the inspector will discuss it with you during the visit.
What does it mean by minimising erosion (GAEC 5 )?
Farmers need to put measures in place to limit soil and bankside erosion on their holding.
Some examples of practices that may cause erosion if not managed correctly are:
- Cropping practices and cropping structures
- Livestock management, including outdoor pigs and poultry, causing overgrazing and poaching
- Vehicles, trailers and machinery travelling over land
What examples are there of measures to limit soil erosion?
There are a range of examples highlighted in the Defra guidance which include leaving course seed-beds to avoid capping, installing diversion diches to intercept and slow down runoff and establishing grass strips along slopes to reduce runoff.
Where compaction may cause soil erosion, such as harvesting maize, you must, where appropriate, cultivate post-harvest land and late harvested crops using primary cultivation methods such as ploughing. Alternative primary cultivation methods are included in Cross-compliance in England: soil protection standards 2015.
The RPA inspector will look at all of the parcels on your holding and a reduction in your payments could occur if any of the following non-compliances are found:
- Soil erosion is over a single area greater than 1ha. This is a continuous area and can include land that crosses permanent boundary features, meaning that the erosion is not necessarily limited within one field/parcel.
- Bankside erosion, caused by livestock trampling, along a continuous stretch of more than 20m long and 2m wide of a watercourse
The reduction in payment will depend on the severity of the erosion that is found.
What does it mean by maintaining good levels of soil organic matter (GAEC 6 )?
Farmers are required to maintain good levels of soil organic matter by demonstrating compliance with the rules. These were already applicable under cross-compliance prior to the change.
Find out more about the new soil standards at this year’s Cereals event on 10 and 11 June at Boothby Graffoe, near Lincoln.
More details available at www.cerealsevent.co.uk and www.fwi.co.uk/cereals