You’d think that the RPA would have had quite enough of checking our farm.
We’ve had missing fields, helicopters, random early morning inspections, so I was confident that we were done for this year and I could concentrate on getting on with real farming – you know: sitting in a tractor or a combine, trundling methodically across the ground.
Alas, no. It all kicked off again, and what makes it worse is that it was at the end of the kindest, most helpful summers and autumns in memory.
We reckon that if we can drill the heavy land by the first week of October, it’s a result. If we can get all the wheats and barleys in by “clock change”, it’s a rare bonus.
So I was feeling distinctly mellow when I finished the last bit of short work on Godwin’s Broom, checked in the Horsch tank and saw dregs of Zulu, and ran them out on the headland.
I drove home to the yard (pausing to take just one more stunning picture of the sunset) with just a hint of a self-congratulatory smile; all the cereals sown beautifully by 25 October. Real farming at its very best. Just the beans to do, and they can wait for a week.
Indoors, I checked my emails. There was one from the RPA. “We carried out a remote sensing inspection of your holding…”
You know it can only go downhill from there. I stocked up the printer with fresh paper, pressed “print”, and cleared the kitchen table ready for the analysis.
Three pages of letter and nine pages of close-printed lines of figures finally burped their way out of the printer. (Remember when they said we were headed for the paperless society?)
Five minutes’ work with the sticky tape and the guillotine, and the full chart was laid out in all its glory.
The first thing we did was add up all the changes, while trying not to laugh at the concept of a field being resized by two square metres.
The relief, when we pressed the “equals” button for the last time, was enormous: we have undersized the farm by 1.9002ha. No further action required – but mustn’t tell the landlord.
But wait – what about the fallow? Yet more frantic button-pressing revealed that our fallow area was also far bigger than we thought – by a whopping 5.0607ha. Now that’s what I call having a safe margin of error.
It was only then that we spotted something odd: we’d been so busy adding up the final column that we’d missed the very first line, which featured a “new” field – one we’ve never farmed, never registered, never entered on a single form. It’s from my neighbour’s farm, directly south of us.
But what to do? Submit an RLE1 form – although I can’t find the code for “Gee, thanks, but it’s not my field!” – and risk being banished to the back of the payment queue while the RPA send out helicopters, drones and footsore staff to check?
Keep quiet about it (because it hadn’t made it to the “area claimed” column) and hope it sorts itself out, but thereby risk some bizarre fine?
Luckily, after only three calls to the RPA, I got a result.
“Hmmm, that’s not right,” said the nice lady, after we’d finished chuckling because I’d stumbled on the “important date” security question (sorry, Mrs Flindt).
“Don’t bother with an RLE1 – it’s not on the official list of fields. Drop us an email about it, and that’ll be fine.”
Phew. Back to real farming – where are my bean legs?
See also: Read more of Charlie Flindt’s columns