Cross-compliance halts expansion

For Clive Weir the arrival of cross-compliance is making him think hard about the way forward from his base at Cabra House near Hillsborough.


Its widespread implications are something too few growers have properly considered, he believes.


With the land he farms in Eire extending his combinable crops operation and bringing his area to 1415ha (3500 acres) this autumn, several related things make him wary of the future.


The first was a call from DARD at the end of August indicating that he had jeopardised his single payment by ploughing a 2.5ha (5-acre) field that he farms under contract.


The allegation was that it was not eligible for subsidy, he says.


“It meant that we just had to leave it unsown.”


The matter remains unresolved.


Repeated complaints from non-farmers about drier noise, a gas banger, tractor movements, spraying and even flies have added to his unease.


And the introduction of single payments means he is having to draw up formal contracts for the seven parcels of land he farms.


“We’ve done three so far.”


Previously all his agreements were on a word-of-mouth trust basis.


“It’s just more hassle.”


To date the number one cross-compliance topic for the province’s farmers has been the need to install slurry storage tanks to counter potential pollution, says Mr Weir.


“But growers should realise that there is so much more to cross compliance than that,” he warns.


dard concern


A key concern is the changing role of DARD staff, which he claims outnumber the region’s full-time farmers by three to one.


Instead of supporting farmers as they did in the past, with functions like cattle identification and crop trials, they are fast becoming inspectors ready to find fault, he believes.


“The more I look the more I realise how much bureaucracy is involved.


And the general public is also making life increasingly difficult.


“The question that has to be asked is: Are farmers willing to give the right to farm that they once had to somebody else?”


Mr Weir’s frustration is aggravated by his belief that in the decade that he has been arable farming, he has responded well to previous demands.


“Expansion was said to be the way ahead, and we’ve done that.


Our fixed costs have come down well and I have a brilliant team working for me.


But is the bureaucracy of the single payment going to ruin us?”


He says the environmental health authority recently required him to treat his chicken litter against flies before spreading.


“They admit there’s no problem really, but they say we have to do it.”


Environmentally he believes he is already making all the right moves, relying far more on min-tillage and introducing GPS technology.


Indeed the latter, through the detailed recording of when and where his sprayer is working, helped dismiss a complaint that he had inadvertently dosed a member of the public with pesticide.


“Once I showed them the record which proved that I was nowhere near them, I heard no more.”


Establishing 80% of this autumn’s cereals by minimum tillage, twice as much as last season, is helping the environment as well as saving money, he points out.


“Our Vaderstad TopDown followed by the 6m Moore Tandem drill is working extremely well. I reckon it has halved our sowing cost.”


andrew.blake@rbi.co.uk