A decision is needed in the next week to 10 days on relaxing the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) three-crop rule, so that claimants can avoid trying to establish crops in hopeless conditions.
The NFU and Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) have both called for the rules to be eased, with TFA chief executive George Dunn pointing out that there had been a promise of more agile decision-making once we left the EU, which has not materialised on this issue.
“We’re certainly still hopeful that Defra will bend on the crop diversification rules,” Mr Dunn told Farmers Weekly.
“There is still time, but farmers run the risk of damaging soils and spending money on trying to get in a crop on which they may lose financially.
“We need a final decision in the next week to 10 days,” he said.
Richard Wordsworth, the NFU’s senior adviser on BPS, agreed: “We need to hear more in the coming days – the BPS application window opens on 12 March,” he said.
“We have written to minister of state George Eustice asking for support for those severely affected by the wet weather and the knock-on impact on ground conditions. We have asked for a derogation from the three-crop rule to further support what has been provided to date by the RPA [Rural Payments Agency].
“We have not heard back to date. Many more farmers have been affected than those covered by the Farming Recovery Scheme, and they need some help to secure their greening proposition, where the current rules are leading to perverse and unintended environmental outcomes,” said Mr Wordsworth.
“We have recently seen Ireland grant a derogation to give more support and certainty more than the current offer of force majeure from Defra, which does not cover the situation most find themselves in, of the ground simply being too wet to work on without causing huge damage.”
In response to questions on what progress there has been so far on this issue, and on when it will decide on any changes or derogations, Defra said: “We are currently exploring what options are available to us to offer flexibility to BPS rules now we have left the EU.
“We are working closely with the RPA to look at all the available options to support farmers who are being affected by wet weather issues.
“The RPA has published online guidance on Gov.uk to provide advice around crop diversification requirements and force majeure. We encourage farmers to contact the RPA to discuss what options are most suitable.”
Current guidance on BPS, greening and wet weather is on the Gov.uk website.
The Farming Recovery Fund opened in January to help farmers hit by last autumn’s floods get back on their feet in parts of South Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and the Midlands.
It offers grants of £500-£25,000 to cover certain uninsurable repair costs, including removing debris, recultivation of land and replacing damaged field gates.
The scheme had previously only been open to farmers in North Yorkshire and Wainfleet in Lincolnshire, who were hit by floods in summer 2019.