New help for flood hit farmers

New measures have been announced by the Government to help farmers affected by the recent flooding get back on their feet and be able to deal with the challenges ahead.

The Government has announced measures to help flood hit farmers

Environment Minister George Eustice has said there will be a relaxation of the three crop rule after farmers in flood-hit areas suggested they would have difficulty complying this year.

The Minister also said he was aware of the problems farmers will be facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and that the Rural Payments Agency would “work tirelessly” to offer guidance.

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Brought over from EU law when the UK left Europe at the end of January, the three-crop rule, officially referred to as the Greening Crop Diversification requirement, states each year farmers claiming BPS and managing more than 30 hectares of arable land are required to grow at least three different crops on that land. Farmers with smaller holdings are also subject to crop diversification requirements.

However, with large swathes of farmland having been under water in recent months, the Government said it is working to relax the rule for all farmers in 2020 with Mr Eustice describing it as “not practical”.

It also announced a further extension of the £6m Farming Recovery Fund which is available to those affected by flooding in parts of East and North Yorkshire along

with other badly hit areas of the country.

Under the fund, affected farmers in eligible areas can claim for grants between £500 and £25,000 to cover a number of uninsurable repair costs such as the re-cultivation of farmland, including re-seeding, replanting cover crops and alleviating soil compaction.

Mr Eustice said: “I have seen first-hand how devastating the recent floods have been to people and communities.

“For farmers, the costs can be overwhelming, which is why we have extended the Farming Recovery Fund to help those affected by exceptional flooding get back on their feet.

“The three-crop rule is not practical in extreme weather events when farmers need to plan their spring cropping.

“Applying a blanket derogation for this year is the best way to reduce bureaucracy and leave farmers free to get on with farming.”

He said all farmers would be notified when the three-crop rule has been amended and approved by Parliament.

Mr Eustice went on to acknowledge the affects agriculture can expect to feel in the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“I’m also aware that the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) is causing other difficulties for the farming community,” he said.

“The Rural Payments Agency is working tirelessly to ensure farmers have access to all the guidance they need and we are exploring all options to ensure the right support is available in the coming weeks and months.”

NFU President Minette Batters said the relaxation of the three crop rule would make a “huge difference” to farmers and cut out the red tape associated with the ‘force majeure’ route.

“Thousands of farmers in England have faced months of relentless heavy rain, waterlogging and flooding of fields leaving them unable to plant and establish crops for 2020,” she said.

“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.

“The NFU first raised concerns about the impact of the weather on farming businesses with Defra and the Rural Payments Agency last October and has continued to highlight this issue to the Government, including recently in front of Defra Secretary of State George Eustice at NFU Conference, so I thank him for listening to our concerns in making this decision.”

Mrs Batters said the derogation would also provide good news for farmers in impacted areas not covered by the Farming Recovery Fund.

“Although the NFU has never been critical of the environmental intent of the crop diversification requirements, we have always been concerned that this EU-legacy scheme has never been applied with the flexibility needed to suit varying weather and farming situations in Britain,” she added.

Defra also outlined new plans for tenant farmers this week on the back of the 12-week consultation carried out last summer. These included scrapping the minimum succession retirement age of 65 and adding a new dispute mechanism for tenants.