Keep crop evidence, Defra tells growers

Growers are being urged to keep documentary evidence of crops sown this autumn to prove they are abiding by strict new European Union rules.

The advice follows new Defra guidance on the way it will implement CAP reform measures in England – including requirements that farmers with more than 30ha of arable land must grow at least three different crops from January 2015. Farmers who fall foul of the rules face losing 30% of their basic payment.

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

For the first time, Defra has confirmed that spring and winter varieties of the same crop – as detailed by the National List and the PGRO Recommended List – will count as separate crops for the purposes of the rule. Unlisted varieties will be assumed to be spring crops.

This means spring and winter crops will be determined by variety not drilling date. Spring varieties drilled in the autumn thus count as spring crops, rather than winter crops. Farmers Weekly has sought clarification whether unlisted wheat variety Belepi – which can be drilled any time from October to April – will count as a spring crop, even if drilled in the autumn.

Defra secretary Liz Truss said she recognised the concerns of many farmers about the impact of the so-called three-crop rule on their businesses. The government had sought to make implementation of the new requirements as simple and straightforward as possible (see minister’s comment, left).

Few arable farmers will be exempt from the three-crop rule. They include farmers with substantial amounts of new land and different crops. But growers seeking an exemption under this criteria will have to show pesticide and fertiliser application records.

“This evidence must be shown for each land parcel,” says an updated CAP reform guidance leaflet published by Defra on Thursday (14 August). It continues: “Farmers should also provide seed labels and invoices – or other evidence of cropping – if they are available.”

NFU chief economist Phil Bicknell said the announcement meant growers would now be able to sort out spring and winter seed – although belatedly. He added: “Farmers should start to think now about the paperwork and the paper trail they are potentially going to have to evidence. Just make sure you save everything.”

Some rules are more farmer-friendly than others – and many will require careful measurement. Buffer strips only 1m wide count towards rules requiring farmers to designate 5% of arable land as an ecological focus area (EFA). Meanwhile, fallow land must be at least 2m wide and have a minimum area of 0.01ha.

Agri-business consultant David Bolton said: “This latest announcement has given us more answers. But farmers are active outdoor creatures – not office bound computer geeks. Many growers will view this as a very prescriptive list of rules and a massive overburden of unwelcome nitpicking.”

More detail is yet to come – including the way hedges and hedge gaps must be measured so they count towards the EFA requirements. Defra is also seeking clarification from Brussels about hedges next to ditches and non-arable land, with further announcements expected in October.

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