FARMERS ARE being given more options to meet new so-called greening rules as part of the conditions for receiving European subsidy payments, the government has announced.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, who was reinstated in her role after the Conservatives surprise outright general election victory, said she welcomed changes announced by the European Commission to make it easier for UK farmers to meet Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules, but warned that there is still more to do reduce the burdens of the current scheme.
From next year, farmers will have more choice of hedgerows on their land that can be used to meet the new greening rules as part of their Basic Payment Scheme claim.
The change – one of three improvements Miss Truss said that the UK has managed to secure from Europe – will mean that hedges separated from a field by another feature such as a farm track or a wide ditch can now be counted towards their greening requirements, and make it easier for farmers to complete their claim.
“Food and farming is a powerhouse of our economy and I will not allow anything to stand in the way of the progress of this thriving industry,” the Leeds-raised MP and cabinet minister said.
“That includes making the rules farmers need to follow as simple as possible. Reducing the complexity of the CAP and the red tape that comes with it is something I have been pushing for with Commissioner Hogan so I welcome these steps to help our farmers.
“This is good progress but there is much more to do and I will continue to press the Commission to be bolder in their reforms, including a full and urgent review of the greening regulations and more flexible inspections to allow farmers to use more photographic evidence to support farm visits.”
In addition to the increased choice of hedgerows for greening, the UK secured two other changes from the European Commission, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said. These are:
Making it easier for the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to process farmers’ claims by removing the need to have detailed maps of features such as ponds, ditches and hedgerows that are not part of their application;
Avoiding the need for areas of heather to be listed differently to other types of grassland on RPA’s maps.
Defra said that Miss Truss set out the case for these reforms to the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan during a visit he made to the UK in February, when he was invited to meet farmers who explained the changes they would need to make to their businesses to meet the new greening rules.
The application window for the new Basic Farm Payment scheme is now closed and the RPA has confirmed that some 84,500 farmers submitted their claim ahead of Monday’s midnight deadline; a figure the Agency said was set to rise as claims handed in at RPA drop-in centres late on Monday continued to be counted.
Farmers who have yet to make a claim can still do so up to midnight on July 10 but face a one per cent penalty for every working day a claim is late.
Farming Minister George Eustice has said payments will start being delivered in December, despite the abandonment of the RPA’s online-only application process after “performance issues” part-way through the application window.