Farmer Focus: Robert Law February column

Of the 1800 ELS applications in 2007 and caught up in the management plans debacle it seems that some 25%, or 450, will be withdrawn. That is a crying shame and a scandal.

It’s quite understandable, given current commodity prices, that applicants did not wish to withdraw land from production to regain missing points, and on certain soil types over-wintered stubbles, late ploughing and spring crops are not attractive.

Those who have withdrawn had followed exhortations from above to join this agri-environmental scheme, and probably spent a lot of time preparing their applications, maybe even employing professional help.

Many, like us, would have joined earlier had they possessed the necessary Rural Land Register maps, a factor outside our control.

We intend to remain within the ELS and hope to gain our “missing” points through new options and increasing the area we have in existing ones.

On our light land we shall expand the over-wintered stubbles, something that is possible because of our amount of spring cropping.

This works on our chalky soils on the Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire border, but not on the Nottinghamshire farm, which is all sandy soils.

So what’s the problem? Answer: New NVZ proposals from DEFRA regarding cover crops.

These crops have been shunted about after the realisation that they are impractical on heavy soils.

They have been passed over to light land growers, particularly those on sandland, as we are considered more able to deal with the problem.

I now understand that an over-wintered stubble is regarded by DEFRA as an acceptable “cover”. But I believe the European Commission will view over-wintered stubbles, which are also part of cross-compliance under NVZ rules, as ineligible for ELS. That is because they would involve double funding, and double funding is anathema to the EC.

So where do we go next?