The three-crop rule has finally been relaxed for farmers in England following months of lobbying by industry leaders.
The rule is being relaxed for all farmers for 2020 – not just flood-hit growers unable to get crops in the ground, said Defra in an announcement on Friday (20 March).
Defra also unveiled £6m through a further extension of its Farming Recovery Fund to help farmers get back on their feet following storms Ciara and Dennis.
This support will be available for flood-hit farmers in parts of East and North Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and Herefordshire.
Originally devised by Brussels, the three-crop rule requires farmers managing more than 30ha of arable land to grow at least three different crops.
Farmers with smaller land holdings are also subject to crop diversification requirements.
Defra said the government was pursuing plans through parliament to relax this rule for all farmers for 2020, so those unable to plant spring crops will not be unfairly penalised.
The amendment will be made for parliament’s approval as soon as possible, it said.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “This derogation will make a huge difference to the thousands of farmers in England who have faced months of relentless heavy rain.
She added: “The unprecedented situation has meant farmers up and down the country have found it virtually impossible to have one crop in the ground, let alone three.
“Without a derogation, they would have been forced down the bureaucratic ‘force majeure’ route that would require case-by-case assessments and needless paperwork.”
Defra secretary George Eustice had previously refused to relax the rule.
But he said: “The three-crop rule is not practical in extreme weather events, when farmers need to plan their spring cropping.
He added: “Applying a blanket derogation for this year is the best way to reduce bureaucracy and leave farmers free to get on with farming.”
Mr Eustice said the government was also aware that the spread of coronavirus was causing other difficulties for the farming community.
The Rural Payments Agency was working tirelessly to ensure farmers had access to all the guidance they need, he said.
Mr Eustice added: “We are exploring all options to ensure the right support is available in the coming weeks and months.”
Under the Farming Recovery Fund, affected farmers in eligible areas can claim for grants between £500 and £25,000 to cover a number of uninsurable repair costs.
These include the recultivation of farmland, including reseeding, replanting cover crops and alleviating soil compaction.
The Farming Recovery Fund was opened to support the recovery from the June and July 2019 floods in North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
It was extended to parts of South Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and the Midlands in November 2019.
This latest announcement brings to £10m the total funding available for farmers to recover from exceptional flooding, during 2019 and the first two months of 2020.
More information on the application dates for the extended Farming Recovery Fund will be released in due course – including details on how to apply and eligibility guidance in affected counties.
Farmers who have been affected by recent flooding and who have already repaired damage caused by the flooding should keep records of all relevant evidence.
This includes receipts and before and after photos, to help the Rural Payments Agency process eligible applications promptly.
Defra said all farmers will be formally notified when the amendment to the three-crop rule has been made and approved by parliament.