Wet weather prompts call for three-crop rule exemption

The NFU has called for arable farmers to be temporarily exempted from rules requiring them to grow at least three crops.

NFU combinable crops chairman and Essex farmer Tom Bradshaw said the arable sector had felt the brunt of the wet autumn and it wasn’t over yet.

See also: Exclusive – the cost of extreme weather for UK farmers

“There are people who have no crop planted,” he told an NFU Council meeting on Tuesday (28 January) at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.

The worst-affected areas were in the Midlands – but conditions were variable right across the country, depending on soil type and rainfall, said Mr Bradshaw.

“It is a geographical lottery,” he said, adding that some farmers had nothing in the ground while others had everything drilled.

Minimal opportunity

The time for planting winter wheat had almost passed and spring crop opportunities were minimal, with markets and premiums for crops such as spring malting barley falling away.

Guidance from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) on declaring a force majeure situation is “very complicated,” said Mr Bradshaw.

The guidance says farmers must request force majeure within 15 days of deciding they cannot meet scheme requirements or obligations due to exceptional circumstances.

Farmers need to prove that – despite taking every care that could have been expected of them – the exceptional circumstances prevented them from meeting their obligations.

Impractical

Mr Bradshaw said it “didn’t seem practical” on such a wide scale for farmers to put in force majeure claims to the RPA.

“Our clear ask for government here is to give us a derogation so there is no pressure on our members to meet the crop diversification rule,” he added.

Farmers should be able to plant what they could – if they were able to plant anything at all.

“There will be a letter going in to the RPA or to [Defra minister] George Eustice asking for a derogation,” said Mr Bradshaw.

Farmers in Ireland have already been granted a derogation on the three-crop rule, which aims to ensure growers plant a range of crops, rather than a monoculture.

Case-by-case basis

It follows an application by the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Dublin.

Irish farmers are being exempted from crop diversification requirements for 2020 on a case-by-case basis – as long as they meet certain criteria.

The derogation applies to farmers who declared winter crops, maize or potatoes on their 2019 BPS application and can demonstrate they were hit by bad weather in late 2019.

The IFA said the derogation might have to be extended if further wet conditions prevented scheduled plantings this coming spring.

IFA grain chairman Mark Browne said: “Forcing farmers to plant crops into unsuitable ground conditions would only further exacerbate the poor income situation.”