Q&A: EFA rule changes – what farmers in England need to know

Changes to the “greening” rules will apply to Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) 2018 applications, Alice De Soer from the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) gives some guidance on the key points to watch.

In England, detailed guidance will be published by the RPA in the BPS 2018 Scheme Rules which is not available yet, so there may still be further developments to the rules.

The Welsh government and Scottish government have already published their guidance. The focus below is on how the rules are likely to operate for BPS claimants in England, although some elements apply to farmers in other parts of the UK so check the “greening” rules relevant to the location of your land.

Alice De Soer, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers 

What are the main changes to the “greening” rules for BPS 2018?

There are a number of changes, but the main ones for BPS 2018 claimants to consider are:

  • A ban on the application of plant protection products (PPPs) on nitrogen-fixing crops, fallow and catch or cover crops declared as Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs)
  • The inclusion of field margins in the EFA buffer strip option in England
  •  An extension to the EFA catch crop period in England from four weeks to a minimum of eight weeks.

See also: Q&A: RPA map updates – what farmers need to know


© Tim Scrivener

The management of EFA fallow after the EFA fallow period ends is another aspect to consider. The Welsh government is banning grazing or mowing and removing grass on land declared as EFA fallow after the EFA fallow period ends (1 August to 31 December).

Farmers in Scotland seem unaffected, but it isn’t clear yet whether farmers in England may see these additional restrictions applied. If introduced in England for BPS 2018, it could prevent grazing or mowing of EFA fallow from 1 July to 31 December 2018.

What area of EFA do I need?

If you aren’t exempt, you need the equivalent of at least 5% of your eligible arable area as EFAs. Because of changes to the rules for BPS 2018, it’s important to check your EFA calculations.

What does the ban on PPS include?

PPPs include seed treatments, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, desiccants and plant growth regulators.

When does the ban on PPPs apply?

The ban on PPPs only applies to nitrogen-fixing crops, fallow and catch or cover crops declared as EFAs and there are different time periods for the ban for each of these EFA options.

  • EFA nitrogen-fixing crops The ban applies for the whole life-cycle of the crop, so from when it’s sown until it’s harvested. Even though the ban on PPPs doesn’t start until 1 January 2018, it still applies to EFA nitrogen-fixing crops sown this autumn, so PPPs shouldn’t be used between now and 31 December 2017 if the area will be declared as EFA on your BPS 2018 application. If the nitrogen-fixing crops won’t be used as EFA, the ban on PPPs doesn’t apply.
  • EFA fallow The PPP ban applies for the duration of the EFA fallow period (1 January to 30 June 2018)
  • EFA catch crops The PPP ban applies throughout the catch crop period (from 2018, this period has been extended to eight weeks from 20 August to 14 October)
  • EFA cover crops The PPP ban applies throughout the cover crop period (1 October 2018 to 15 January 2019)
  • There are no exemptions to this PPPs ban, they can only be applied outside the ban periods. This includes, for example, controlling blackgrass, as well as land in an agri-environment option that’s declared as one of the affected EFA options. If PPPs are applied during the ban periods, don’t declare that area as EFA on the BPS 2018 application.

What can be used as an EFA field margin?

The introduction of the EFA field margin option in England is an extension of the existing EFA buffer strip option.

So they’re the same EFA option, but an EFA buffer strip has to be next to (or parallel with and on slope running down to) a watercourse and an EFA field margin should be next to a permanent field boundary or landscape feature (for example, a hedge, fence, wall, man-made surfaced track or road).

A field margin

© Tim Scrivener

Like EFA buffer strips, an EFA field margin must be:

  • At least 1m wide
  • Next to, or within 5m of, “arable” land

It can’t be used for any crop production, needs to be visually different to any adjoining agricultural land and must be maintained for the full calendar year in which it’s claimed.

What is an EFA field margin worth towards the minimum 5% EFA requirement?

Each linear metre of EFA field margin counts as the equivalent of 9sq m of EFA. Having an EFA field margin wider than the minimum 1m doesn’t give a larger EFA equivalent area, only the length of the EFA field margin is relevant. Any additional width could be included as EFA fallow if it meets the requirements.

I’m claiming an EFA field margin next to an EFA hedge, is this an “overlapping” EFA?

Where certain EFA options (nitrogen-fixing crops, fallow and catch/cover crops) are located adjacent to an EFA hedge there is an “overlapping” EFA because they’re using the same area.

To take account of that, a reduction has to be made to the fallow or cropped area. However, as an EFA field margin and EFA hedge are both linear features there isn’t an “overlapping” EFA, so no reduction is needed.

Can a 2m cross-compliance margin be used as an EFA field margin?

Like the existing EFA buffer strip option, an EFA field margin can be located on the same area as the 2m cross-compliance requirement for hedges.

But, the width of a 2m cross-compliance margin is measured from the centre of a hedge whereas an EFA field margin must have at least 1m of uncultivated land from the edge of the hedge.

If a hedge is particularly wide, for example, 1.5m from the centre, the cross-compliance margin would only leave 0.5m from the edge of that hedge for the EFA field margin, so an additional 0.5m of uncultivated land would be needed so the EFA field margin is at least 1m wide from the edge of the hedge.

Can a Countryside Stewardship (CS) or Environmental Stewardship buffer strip be used as an EFA field margin?

If the CS buffer strip meets the EFA eligibility criteria, it can be used.

However, there are 19 CS options (listed in the Natural England CS manual on GOV.UK) where the CS payment will be reduced if they’re declared as EFAs.

This is to avoid “double-funding” (paying for the same thing twice).

For example, CS option SW1 (4m to 6m buffer strip on cultivated land) is located on the edge of cultivated fields next to hedges and other such boundary features.

A buffer strip

© Tim Scrivener

The usual payment rate for SW1 is £353/ha, but if the same area is used as an EFA field margin the payment is reduced to £79/ha.

While an EFA field margin can overlap with a 2m cross-compliance margin, a CS buffer strip can’t.

If a CS buffer strip, such as SW1, is already established but you’re intending to use the 2m cross compliance margin next to the CS buffer strip towards an EFA field margin this could lead to a CS payment “double-funding” reduction.

For example, CS option SW1 has already been established starting 2m from the centre of the hedge because it can’t overlap with the cross-compliance margin.

But the hedge is 1.5m wide from the centre, so an extra 0.5m of uncultivated land is needed for the EFA field margin to be 1m wide from the edge of the hedge.

The EFA field margin has encroached by 0.5m onto the CS option SW1 area, leading to a “double-funding” situation.

Environmental Stewardship buffer strip options that meet the EFA eligibility requirements can also be used. The “double-funding” rules are different for ES.

Only certain ES agreements are affected (ELS agreements with a start date of 1 January 2012 or later) and Natural England has already automatically reduced the payments for affected ES options, so using an ES option for EFA won’t affect your ES payment.


  • Check your EFAs will meet the minimum 5% requirement for your BPS 2018 application
  • Make sure that PPPs aren’t applied to EFA nitrogen-fixing crops between now and 31 December 2017
  • Check that EFA field margins are at least 1m wide from the edge of a hedge