How to avoid EFA pitfalls in 2019

Defra has tightened the double-funding rules, with implications for farmers as they make this year’s Ecological Focus Area (EFA) calculations.

George Badger, farm consultant with Strutt & Parker, explains the new arrangements.

1. Double-funding rules are designed to stop farmers being paid under two different schemes – for example, BPS and an agri-environment scheme – for the same activity on one parcel of land.

2. Historically farmers with old (pre-2012) Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) or any Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements were able to use relevant options in their ELS/HLS agreements to count towards their EFA obligations without any changes to payments.

See also: BPS – tips for applying in 2019

3. The rules were slightly different for farmers with a new Countryside Stewardship Agreement (CS).

Until now, it has been possible to use parcels of land under a CS option as EFA, but CS payments were adjusted accordingly to prevent double-funding.

4. However, the rules have changed for 2019 to end the practice of overlapping CS options and EFA on the same parcel of land.

The Rural Payments Agency has produced a list of 19 double-funding options that can no longer be used as EFA. This new rule applies to all CS agreements regardless of start date.

5. One exception is hedgerows, which can be used both as an EFA and a CSS option [BE3], provided both sets of management rules are followed.

6. Farmers who have extended a HLS agreement beyond its initial 10-year term are also affected by this rule change.

However, HLS schemes still within their initial term can continue to overlap options without any reduction or penalty.

7. For affected farmers, hedges remain a good starting point for EFA. Another useful option is EFA field margins, which are a 1m strip of uncultivated land adjacent to a bank, hedge, fence or road.

An EFA field margin can be located on the same area as the 2m cross-compliance protection zone, although there must be at least 1m of uncultivated land from the edge of the hedge throughout the year to be eligible.