5 most common cross-compliance errors and how to avoid them

Failure to report livestock movements correctly is the most common error made by farmers when it comes to meeting cross-compliance rules.

Defra has recently published the results of all the breaches found during the 2019 Basic Payment Scheme inspection programme, which involved just over 12,000 farms in England.

The role of inspectors is to check that farms are complying with the list of good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) standards, along with the statutory management requirements (SMRs).

See also: BPS cross-compliance changes for 2021

Farmers must meet all of these rules if they are to qualify for their full basic payment.

Failure to do so can result in a written warning where the breach is minor, but payment penalties if the breach is more serious.

The top five most common cross-compliance breaches are listed below, along with advice from Evie Price of cross-compliance expert CXCS on how to avoid making a similar mistake.

1. Cattle identification and registration (SMR 7)

  • Number of inspections: 1,251
  • Percentage of inspections failed: 47.2%

Most problems related to a failure to report movements or movement details being recorded incorrectly. However, farms were also pulled up because an animal had an incorrect date of birth listed, or animals were not found in the farm records.

Tips to avoid penalties

  • The biggest pitfall with animal movements lies in the record-keeping system – if the system you have is not working, consider changing it.
  • Carry around a small pocketbook for making notes while outside with the herd, or change to an online recording system complete with an app for your phone. Data can then be transferred to the main herd register.
  • Cattle herd/holding registers must be kept for 10 years.

2. Reduce water pollution in nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ) (SMR 1)

  • Number of inspections: 805
  • Percentage of inspections failed: 27.8%

The vast majority of breaches were because farmers had incomplete or missing records relating to their nutrient management planning.

Requirements include keeping field-level records of fertiliser applications and a risk map of the holding that shows areas where particular care needs to be taken to avoid run-off.

Tips to avoid penalties

  • Check if any of your land is inside an NVZ by visiting the Environment Agency’s online NVZ map.
  • For land that is inside the NVZ, ensure you are aware of the records required to be kept, and the limits to be met.
  • Records required include: risk maps for soil erosion and run-off; maps for manure management and temporary field heap locations; a nutrient management plan (also known as four-step nitrogen plan); whole-farm nitrogen calculations; and slurry storage calculations.
  • Use the records to assess whether you are meeting the regulations – for example, the 250kg/ha of nitrogen limit on spreading manures.

3. Animal welfare (SMR 13)

  • Number of inspections: 477
  • Percentage of inspections failed: 24.9%

There were 133 instances where farms were judged to have failed to prevent animal welfare problems occurring, either because of understaffing, a lack of competence in animal care or where animals did not have access to a lying area that was well-drained or with dry bedding.

Tips to avoid penalties

  • When hiring staff, ask to see relevant qualifications or records of training, to ensure they are competent to carry out the job. If you have time, carry out induction training and keep records of it (this will also meet requirements for many farm assurance standards).
  • Ensure vet and med records are kept up to date. This can be on paper or computerised.
  • Walk around the farmyard and ask yourself if the buildings are fit for purpose. If not, what can be done about it? It may just be a few minor repairs that need to be carried out. Schemes and grants may be available to help you with costs for upgrading drainage and handling systems.

4. Sheep and goat identification (SMR 8)

  • Number of inspections: 1,216
  • Percentage of inspections failed: 21.6%

As was the case with cattle, most problems related to failure to record movements correctly or involved errors relating to ID numbers, dates of birth, replacement tags and the death of animals not being recorded properly.

Tips to avoid penalties

  • As with cattle records, ask yourself if the record-keeping system you have is adequate. Moving your records to a computerised spreadsheet or online system may be the answer.
  • Consider buying an electronic identification (EID) reader. You can buy a basic reader for about £400.
  • If you are moving sheep or goats to various different blocks of grass keep, consider setting up a temporary land association (TLA) to link the land temporarily to your county parish holding number. This will cut down hugely on the requirement for reporting and recording movements.
  • Kill two birds with one stone – when handling the sheep for routine procedures such as dipping, shearing and scanning, take time to check tags and records.

5. Food and feed law (SMR 4 TB)

  • Number of standalone inspections: 283
  • Percentage of inspections failed: N/A

This standard is designed to ensure that the food produced for human consumption is safe. Almost all breaches of this standard related to bovine TB showed a failure to conform to the correct testing intervals for TB tests.

Tips to avoid penalties

  • If moving cattle to grass keep, consider setting up a TLA so you do not have to carry out post- or pre-movement testing, or move stock within 60 days of a clear whole-herd test.
  • Ensure the Animal and Plant Health Agency has your up-to-date contact details and set up reminders when you receive correspondence from them.
  • Organise additional labour for the test day, if needed, and ensure handling facilities are adequate – grants are sometimes available to upgrade them, or some vets offer a hire service for mobile crushes and handling systems.