Farm assurance key to boosting HFA payments
By Jessica Buss
JOINING a farm assurance scheme before completing IACS forms could help many beef and sheep producers increase payments from the new Hill Farming Allowance by 10%.
Farm assurance is one of six criteria, under current propsals (see box), which if met would increase HFA payments. Meeting any one of these criteria is worth an extra 10% on payments and meeting two or more will increase the benefit to 20%, says Strutt & Parkers Andrew Smith.
The North Yorks-based consultant warns that its worth producers hoping to claim HFA checking if they meet these criteria, before submitting IACS forms on May 15.
"We dont know what HFA payments will be, but its certainly worth some effort to try and meet the criteria for extra income."
Beef and sheep producers with over 10ha (25 acres) of Less Favoured Area (LFA) land are eligible for the scheme which replaces the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance scheme, providing they meet stocking rate requirements.
Chris Blackman, NFU representative on the LFA committee for Shropshire and Herefordshire, hopes as many producers as possible will qualify for extra money with the six criteria proposed. His 90ha (220 acre) beef and sheep unit in Shropshire qualifies on farm assurance and the arable and woodland area.
"Those that cannot meet these criteria will be disadvantaged," he says. However, its possible more conditions for enhanced payments will be agreed before the scheme is finalised this summer.
While the new schemes first payments will be made in March/April next year, MAFF will calculate stocking rates from this years IACs returns. There are also two boxes to tick; one when the farm is registered as an eligible organic farm, and another when belonging to a UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) farm assurance scheme, says Mr Smith.
"At present, no assurance scheme is UKAS accredited, but schemes such as Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb is being considered. If it becomes accredited by the years end members will be eligible for payment enhancements." Producers with membership of schemes they believe will become accredited should tick this box, advises Mr Smith.
Those not currently in a farm assurance scheme, and not qualifying for two other conditions for extra payments should consider joining one, he adds.
"While enhancements cannot be calculated, if payments are similar to HLCA the costs of joining a farm assurance scheme will be repaid."
FABBL charges £85 for first year members and £75 a year, thereafter.
Most are unlikely to find additional costs of complying with assurance rules excessive or will be meeting these requirements already, says Mr Smith.
"Then if you decide to join, apply to the scheme, tick the IACS form box and add a covering letter to say you have applied because applications may take time to process."
For many units, to achieve maximum HFA payments, its likely one of the stocking rate criteria will have to be met. While Mr Smith advocates calculating where you stand to make minor adjustments, major changes to stocking could have an adverse effect on profits. "Stick to your business strategy, rather than put profit at risk," he says.
Those with dairy cows will find milk quota held on Mar 31 2000 counted in stocking rate calculations, even where they have recently sold cows or plan to sell them. *
• At least 1ha (2.5 acres) or 5% of LFA land in arable or woodland and not receiving other CAP support.
• Beef and suckler units with at least one cow to every 27 ewes in LFA livestock units.
• Stocking density of 80% or less of the 1.4 LU/ha (0.56/acre) scheme maximum.
• Stocking density of 0.5 LU/ha (0.2/acre) or less.
• Belonging to a UKAS farm assurance scheme.
• Farms on the UK Register of Organic Food Standards, not in the Organic Aid or Organic Farming schemes.