CAP reform: Expert explains latest detail on greening and entitlements

Defra’s latest CAP reform information has recently been hitting the inboxes and doormats of farmers in England. So what questions do we have answers to now- NFU’s expert adviser on CAP schemes, Richard Wordsworth, gives an insight.

Q Has Defra decided how it will treat spring and winter crops?

Spring and winter crops will count as two separate crops for the crop diversification requirement. Defra’s August greening guidance confirmed that the designation of spring and winter crops will be based on variety. Spring wheat and a winter wheat, for example, will count as two separate crops. More information about this is in Defra’s August greening guidance.

See also: CAP reform at-a-glance guide for UK’s regions

Q How long is the period when I need to have three crops on the farm for crop diversification and does this stop me planting crops after this date?

Defra guidance refers to this as the cropping period; it is when farmers will be expected to meet the crop diversification requirement by having the minimum required number of eligible crops in the ground.

This will be a two-month window between 1 May and 30 June and is also the inspection period. This doesn’t mean that planting can’t start after 1 May and similarly, it doesn’t mean that harvest can’t start until after 30 June. The RPA will accept the presence of stubble as evidence of a crop and there is the possibility that other evidence may be accepted as well.

Defra is pushing for flexibility in the European rules and this is something the new secretary of state, Liz Truss, emphasised to Farmers Weekly recently.

Q What is the minimum parcel size for ecological focus area (EFA) fallow? I would like to use small areas of fallow dotted around the farm to help me meet the 5% EFA target.

A The minimum parcel size for EFA fallow is 0.01ha. This will help ensure that areas such as uncropped field corners will gain credit towards EFA.

Similarly, the use of a minimum width of 2m for EFA fallow will help uncropped strips of arable land contribute to the overall 5% EFA criteria.

Q I know that 1m of hedge length equals 10sq m of EFA, but what’s the situation for shared boundaries. Also, is there a minimum width for hedges?

A We don’t know how hedges on boundaries will work yet. Defra is raising this with the European Commission along with how hedges separated from arable areas by other features, hedges boarding non-arable areas and hedges with gaps in will count towards the hedge EFA option. Defra’s October guidance should hopefully help clarify the situation. There is no minimum hedge width, but there is a maximum width of 10m.

Q What are catch crop and cover crops?

A Definitions and timings for catch/cover crops have been announced and give us more detail on how the EFA option will work for these crops that go into the ground in the second half of 2015.

A catch/cover crop must consist of a sown mix of at least two different cover types (one cereal and one non-cereal) that establish quickly, achieve ground cover and use available nutrients.

Catch crops will need to be established by 31 August and retained until at least 1 October of the same year. Cover crops need to be established by 1 October and retained until at least 15 January the following year.

Q Can the same crop be used for both EFA and crop diversification? For instance, will my 20ha of field beans count as crop diversification and also help towards my 5% EFA under the greening requirements?

A  If the same crop is used for each, then the management rules for both crop diversification and EFA must be met. So your 20ha of field beans can be a crop, but it can also give you 14ha towards your overall EFA requirement.

If you’re using fallow to meet EFA and crop diversification greening rules, check for any differences in the management rules – although fallow needs to be present for crop diversification checks between 1 May and 30 June, the EFA rules mean you need to maintain that fallow between 1 January and 30 June.

Q What does “land at your disposal” mean? Who’s responsible for greening when land is let out? I rent land from someone else, but they claim SPS on it. Who will be responsible for greening in future?

A If the eligible land is at your disposal you are responsible for carrying out greening on it. Land is at your disposal if you are an owner-occupier, who is farming the land, including keeping the land in good agricultural and environmental condition or paying for the land to be farmed under contract, a tenant with a Farm Business Tenancy under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, an Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenancy or equivalent or a licensor when the licensee (grazier) only has access to graze or mow the land.

Q I have three farms that will likely be under just one claim. Do I have to do greening on each farm? How does greening work if I farm in more than one location?

A Greening applies on a claim level, essentially based on the SPS SBI number. If the three farms are all included on the one claim, you could put the majority of greening payments on one farm holding if you wanted. The same goes for cross-border holdings, although greening rules are slightly different in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and these rules should be considered to ensure compliance.

Q Can catch or cover crops planted this autumn count towards our EFA for the 2015 BPS claim?

A In short, no. The August greening leaflet explains that catch and cover crops have to be planted during the basic payment year to be claimed as EFA for that scheme year. So for catch and cover crops to be counted in 2015 they would need to be planted in 2015.

Q Do legumes grown for forage, such as lucerne, count towards the nitrogen-fixing crop EFA option?

A Pasture legumes can count towards this EFA option as they are nitrogen-fixing crops. The full list of crops that can be used as nitrogen-fixing crops for EFA are outlined in the August guidance

Q Is it correct that a buffer strip must be next to a watercourse, and is this additional to cross-compliance needs?

A Buffer strips are the same as those used to meet cross-compliance and cross-compliance buffer strips can be used for EFA greening purposes. Buffer strips must be next to or parallel with, and on a slope leading to, a watercourse.

A watercourse can include seasonal dry ditches. A 1m length of buffer strip is worth 9sq m of buffer strip EFA option, although buffer strips can be wider. The NFU is pushing for any margin width over and above the 1m buffer strip width to be recognised under the EFA fallow option, providing the fallow rules can be met.

Q If I have 32ha of arable land, but only decide to claim 29.5ha of entitlements, does this mean I only need to grow two crops rather than three under crop diversification rules?

A Greening applies to the total eligible area and not just land claimed under BPS. Greening requirements can’t be avoided by claiming for less arable area than the actual size of the arable area on the holding. So in this situation crop diversification rules would have to be applied to the whole 32ha.

Q Will fallow be allowed for blackgrass control – for instance, are there any restrictions on what I can do on that fallow?

A Fallow can’t have a crop planted or sown on it within the period, and also cannot be used for grazing during the fallow period. The fallow period is a different length of time for crop diversification and EFA greening purposes.

There are no management requirements other than maintaining fallow land along the lines of the August guidance definition and for fallow EFA, having a minimum width of 2m.

Fallow land used for EFA may be sown with wild bird seed mixes and nectar sources.

Cross-compliance rules must be followed on fallow land. As fallow land must be kept in a state suitable for grazing or cultivation, spraying for blackgrass control is likely to be allowed.

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