Farmers hit by this summer’s prolonged dry weather will be able to increase how much feed they grow for livestock, under a rules relaxation secured by the Government.
The dry weather earlier in the summer has left many livestock farmers with too little pasture to graze their animals on, with some dipping into feed supplies that would have otherwise been used to get them through the barren winter months.
But a flexibility of regulations allowed by the EU Commission means that from today, farmers will be allowed to grow grass and other edible forage in areas that are not usually allowed for grazing.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the UK government had secured a derogation from the EU’s Ecological Focus Area (EFA) winter crop requirements, which stipulates that certain areas must be left fallow or sown with crop mix that cannot be grazed.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who earlier this month was accused of inaction over mitigation measures for farmers suffering from the affects of the dry weather despite earlier pledging to offer his support, said: “We have had one of the driest summers since modern records began in 1961, and it is only right that we do what we can to support farmers who have been placed under the most pressure.
“I am pleased that the flexibilities announced today will offer some help to livestock farmers by opening up new sources of fodder ahead of the winter.
“I am also glad that we are continuing to discuss the industry’s ideas for longer-term resilience."
The government will continue to monitor the situation and listen to industry as we move towards the autumn and winter months, Defra said.
The National Farmers' Union said it was frustrated that the move had not come earlier.
Stuart Roberts, the union's vice president, said: “This move from the government is welcome news and I’m pleased to see that it has acted on the NFU’s calls in this area. It will provide relief for farmers but it is frustrating the move has not happened sooner.
“The impact of this year’s weather will undoubtedly continue into the winter for many farmers as feed supplies run thin so it is vital there is continued flexibility from government. The NFU is urging the government to ensure that BPS and agri-environment payments are paid promptly and that bridging payments are delivered for those who are not paid on time.”
Following talks with farming groups, a number of practical steps have already been taken to ease the pressures facing farmers as a result of the dry weather.
Those steps have included the Environment Agency granting 89 flexible water abstraction licenses for farmers to safeguard food production and animal welfare, with the majority of applications received from farmers having been approved.
The Government has also published guidance for 40 Countryside Stewardship options which can be adjusted for this year without penalty if agreement holders notify Natural England by the end of the year.
Penalties were also waived for farmers who fail to establish EFA catch crops by 20 August.