Opinion: These forms are taking the PIF

There seems to be an element of kismet about how just as many of us have been pulling our hair out as we sweated over our BPS application forms, the government announced a referendum where we will all be given a vote as to whether we want to stay in the EU.

Those forms seemed to represent the working of the CAP at its most maddening.

It was the field and crop codes that really got to me. If I wasn’t muddling over my PG01s and PG02s, I was getting sidetracked by looking down the code list to discover arable land growing cannabis (well, hemp anyway) should be coded ACI4 whereas if it was tobacco it was AC34.

Being easily distracted, I started wondering if land with rounded hillocks should be coded 32DD or, if it was a field that until recently grazed horses, it should be MTGG. And don’t get me started on my PIFs.

As I filled in yet another RLE1 form for tiny bits of ineligible land I’d never claimed on, I convinced myself that someone, somewhere was indeed taking the PIF.

When it finally came to the ticking active farmer box, I was seriously questioning whether I was one or actually some office bound paper-pusher who spent most of his days filling in stupid forms when I should be farming.

But eventually I got the job done. Last year it took about two hours, this year it was more like two days. And that’s what they call progress.

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Having put the forms in the post box addressed to the RPA (perhaps I should have put SWALK written on the back) I started worrying if I’d made some mistakes. Had I muddled up some field coordinates and actually claimed on two hectares of Clacton beach? If so, should I have excluded the pier as a permanently ineligible feature?

Slowly but surely my paranoia got worse. I imagined the resulting headlines in the local paper along the lines of “NFU vice-president caught in EU fraud scandal” as it turned out I should have coded my grass margin PG02 not PG01.

But amid all the frustration, I suppose it’s a large amount of money I’m applying for so it’s not unreasonable I should have to go to some lengths to get the application form right.

More to the point, with farmgate prices where they are, I’m acutely aware my BPS payment may well represent my entire profit margin next year and without it life would be very uncomfortable.

The concern now is that given the complexities of the new scheme and the fact most of us have put forms in considerably later than we did last year, then the chances of delayed payments are increased. You just have to hope that the government has given the RPA the extra resource it will need to process all the applications in good time.

There is also the worry that, given the inevitable innocent errors that will have been made, then the commission in Brussels are in a benign mood.

So that brings me back to the EU referendum. On the one hand the BPS saga has highlighted how the EU needs to do better when it comes to its agricultural policy. The question is could Britain do better on its own, either with some sort renegotiated position where it repatriates ag policy while staying in the EU or even by leaving the EU entirely. On the other hand, some may feel Britain would do well to stay at the heart of the EU as most continental governments are minded to support agriculture more comprehensively than is the case in the UK.

There seems to be a lot to think about in this ol’ farming business nowadays.

Guy Smith

Guy comes from a mixed family farm on the north-east Essex coast. Situated on the coast close to Clacton-on-Sea, the business is well diversified with a golf course, shop, fishing lakes and airstrip. He is vice-president of the NFU

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