Fraser Hugill is at one with the countryside and enjoys nothing more than spending time with his pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd of 45 breeding females at Throstle Nest Farm, tucked away down a dead-end track out of the Howardian Hills village of Sproxton.
He came here two years ago with his partner Rosy Eaton and they are living in a caravan as all around them work is to be done.
Their second cattle shed is just being completed and the farmhouse they intended to renovate is due to be taken down piece by piece so they can rebuild something more stable. They’re investing in their future.
Looking a little like a farming equivalent of footballer-turned-TV pundit Robbie Savage with long blond locks, and with a smile to match, your first thought mightn’t be that Fraser is a major speaker at a farmers meeting, but that’s the role he will be assume on Monday at the Galtres Centre in Easingwold.
He’ll talk about considerations for farmers in the coming months that include new words such as ‘greening’ and ‘Ecological Focus Areas’. The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is introduced next year and farmers need to know what’s involved. One way of describing what happens when CAP reforms happen - agreed through the European Union - is that it’s like getting a new rule book that tells you the way in which you’re eligible to receive a subsidy.
‘Greening’ is a major plank of the reforms and not complying with the rules may lead to a loss of what has been known as the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) or Single Farm Payment (SFP) but will in future be known as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
Fraser, previously the head of conservation management at the North York Moors National Park, is the regional co-ordinator for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE), which operates out of the NFU headquarters in Warwickshire and offers advice to farmers.
Fraser believes that the new rules can be adhered to well if farmers make things work for their individual farms.
“People are still unsure of the rules and understandably have questions. That’s why these roadshows that the Farm Advice Service is organising are very useful. We’re all still waiting to see what the final rulebook is going to look like but the headline news is that every farm, apart from exceptions such as organic farms, must show that five per cent of their eligible land has been or is being ‘greened’ and will be termed an Ecological Focus Area.
“That means a greater emphasis on every farm towards conservation and wildlife improvement in order to qualify for their BPS payment.
“What I will be doing next week is talking about ‘greening’, what you have to do with your Ecological Focus Areas and how you can make it work for both your farm business and the environment. In ‘greening’ I think we have something that’s not as complex as it could have been. If you take a look at what we’re being asked to do I don’t think any of us can scream about it.
“CFE already encourages and recognises farmers for the environmental work they carry out voluntarily. Over the past year farmers that we surveyed delivered a staggering 450,000-plus hectares of voluntary environmental management. That shows just how much farmers do without ever thinking about getting something out of it. They do it because we care about wildlife, conservation and where we live. I get a lot of pleasure from the wildlife I see on my farm. It’s not all about having the biggest heap of wheat.
“We think that complying with the new ‘greening’ rules isn’t just about meeting a requirement, it’s about doing things well. If you’re going to put down an acreage to a wild bird seed mix then you might as well give it your best shot.”
The CAP Reforms meeting is open to all farmers at the Galtres Centre, Easingwold on Monday, November 3, 10am–12.30pm.