Relief as Defra relaxes ‘active farmer’ test for new BPS

Farm leaders are claiming victory after Defra revealed the active farmer test for claiming the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) has been relaxed.

Defra has published an update to its CAP reform documentation which says all farmers with at least 36ha of eligible land will be able to apply for the BPS as an active farmer.

This is even if they also operate one of five specified “non-agricultural activities” which include operating sports and recreational grounds and real estate services.

“This decision will bring a sigh of relief to thousands of businesses that faced losing out on vital support payments.”
Henry Robinson, CLA president 

See also: CAP Q&A: Active farmer rules 

Farms with less than 36ha may still be caught by the rule, although Defra has clarified that it would not regard renting out accommodation, land or buildings on a farm as offering real estate services.

Producers may also qualify as active farmers if they meet another of the “re-admission criteria”, says Defra.

One of these criterion is that a farmer’s annual payments for the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) or BPS (including the greening payment and any young farmer payments) are at least 5% of their total non-agricultural receipts in the most recent financial year

A second is that a farmer’s total agricultural receipts are at least 40% of their total receipts in the most recent financial year  

The Country Land and Business Association said it had lobbied for 18 months to scale down the active farmer test in England as it would have prevented thousands of genuine farming businesses from claiming payments.

CLA president Henry Robinson said: “This decision will bring a sigh of relief to thousands of businesses that faced losing out on vital support payments.

“We fought hard against active farmer rules that would have discriminated against farmers who have successfully diversified their business, as well as larger estates and institutional landowners. If land is managed properly, meets the scheme rules and is kept in good agricultural and environmental condition then it should not matter who the claimant is.”

Other points raised in the CAP update include:

Buffer strips

Ecological Focus Area (EFA) buffer strips must be “visually distinguishable” from neighbouring EFA fallow land.

 An inspector on the ground, or someone seeing an aerial photograph, must be able to tell the difference between the two. This applies throughout the whole fallow period.

To qualify, the vegetation must be different, or of a different height. Or, the land management could be different. For example, the fallow land has been cultivated.

Activities that don’t affect BPS payments

Walking, bird watching, nature/farm visits by schools, horse or bicycle riding along bridleways, fishing, hedge-laying competitions or local ploughing competitions (that don’t affect land in GAEC), shooting game, deer stalking, drag hunting, paragliding and hand gliding.

Activities with a 28-day limit (must not last more than 28 days in a calendar year)

Clay shooting, car boot sales, car parking, country fairs and shows, farm auctions and shows, horse-riding activities with apparatus such as show-jumping or in-field cross country, ballooning, festivals and events, scout or guide camps, using land for TV/film shoots, caravan sites, motor sports, grass airstrips.

Activities that mean farmers cannot claim payments on that land

Permanent sports facility, such as golf course, community recreational land, such as dog walking.

Utility and transport works

If a farmer has utility or transport works taking place on their land, it could sometimes mean that land isn’t eligible in that scheme year and they can’t use entitlements to get paid for it.

If this happens, farmers may want to seek compensation for the loss of their entitlements and payments from the organisation carrying out the work.

* Read the full document for further details on Defra’s latest CAP update for England.