Farmers worried over lack of flexibility in Welsh fallow rules

Welsh farmers are facing a change in the rules on how they manage fallow land as part of updated greening rules.

In line with the rest of the EU, from 2018 farmers in Wales will have to comply with a complete ban on the use of plant protection products (PPP) on nitrogen-fixing crops and fallow land used as an ecological focus area (EFA).

But claimants in Wales have also been told that even when the fallow period is over, anything grown on fallow land must not be used.

See also: EFA rules – changes and options explained

New guidance says no grazing may take place until the end of the calendar year, nor can a cut be taken after the fallow period has closed. The fallow period runs from 1 February to 31 July in Wales.

Grass on the land can be cut, but the cuttings should be left to rot; they cannot be removed, burned or used.

An interpretation?

The updated guidance notes from the Welsh government says the rule change is necessary because “the EC has instructed member states to change the way farm businesses carry out agricultural activities on fallow land”.

Richard King, head of business research at Andersons, said it was an important change as farmers may have used temporary grass to satisfy their EFA requirement and then grazed it, silaged it or made hay after the end of the fallow period .

But he pointed out that while the Welsh government was claiming it was an EU requirement, recent guidance issued in Scotland still allowed farmers to use what had grown on their fallow land at the end of the closed period.

“I think this is an interpretation of what the EU rules say. I think the Welsh government has interpreted it one way and the Scottish government has gone another way.”

England has yet to issue full greening guidelines for the 2018 scheme year and while some think it is unlikely it would follow the lead set by Wales, others are more cautious.

‘Significant effect’

Dylan Morgan, head of policy at NFU Cymru, said: “The effect on those Welsh arable farming businesses that make use of this option could be significant and we are concerned this once again shows the lack of flexibility and common sense associated with greening rules.

“The Welsh government has made it clear to us that the European Commission has forced this change on them for 2018.

“Within the constraints of current European Commission greening rules, NFU Cymru would like to see the maximum amount of flexibility with regards to the EFA measures in Wales – we would like to see the current options in Wales extended to also include buffer strips, field margins and cover crops.”