Greening the Common Agricultural Policy

Written evidence submitted by the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (GCAP 09)

1. The proposals for "Greening" direct payments tabled by the European Commission in the draft regulations issued on October 12th are extremely problematic in general and pose specific issues for the UK with its emphasis on agri-environment schemes under Pillar II. These problems lie in both what is not stated and in what is proposed. They add new levels of complexity for both claimants and payment agencies and, as drafted, risk undermining the level of agri-environment commitment in the UK.

2. The full distinction between the mandatory greening commitment and the basic payment is unclear. At present, it only seems to lie in the exclusion of the greening payment from capping.

3. Beyond that, the core issue in what is not stated is that neither the draft of the direct payments regulation nor that of the finance regulation gives any clue as to the penalty regime for breaching greening. With the clear and substantial overlaps between the greening measures and the options adopted by many farmers under ELS in England, Tir Cynnal and Tir Gofal in Wales and other agri-environment schemes elsewhere in the UK, this is already seriously disrupting potential applications for renewals of such schemes, never minding the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. In addition to the general prohibition on double funding, the finance regulation expressly forbids double funding of measures already funded under the Rural Development Regulation – yet in the UK greening, as drafted, would expressly create a conflict for many Environmental Stewardship and other agreement holders, potentially forcing them to change their agreements in ways that may not suit them or withdraw.

4. The finance regulation’s comments on permanent grassland suggest that greening is to have a separate regime from cross compliance.

5. Considering the proposals as tabled, there must be room for member state discretion over the measures. The concept of pan-European measures is understood but the differing agronomic conditions from Romania to Ireland and Sicily to Finland are such as to make this absurd in practice; it is possible that few arable farmers in Finland could sensibly comply with crop diversification.

6. It is understood that all basic payment claimants must comply with all three greening measures insofar as they have land that is "permanent grassland" or other agricultural land.

7. "Permanent grassland" – This imposes a version of the current member state level protection of such land at a farm level while the finance regulation suggests the present regime may also run in parallel. It is stressed that the definition is not limited to what any ordinary person would call permanent pasture but just to pasture land that has not been in an arable (as defined) rotation for five years. It will thus include much temporary grass – two successive three year leys would be caught – imposing a profound limitation on many livestock farms without necessarily yielding any environmental benefit. That is leading some to consider ploughing temporary grass out now until they realise they could be caught by not only the existing regime but also by the other greening measures relevant to other land.

8. This potentially raises issues now for those who have land that has been in reversion under environmental schemes.

9. It might be more rational for this rule to apply to land that requires consideration for environmental impact assessments.

10. We have yet to understand how this will work as land moves between farmers.

11. Crop diversification - As drafted, this risks many unintended and disruptive consequences. The minimum threshold of 3 hectares (7.5 acres) above which the arable land must be in three crops is absurdly low on any economic calculus. Few UK farmers could contemplate the current proposals on such a small acreage.

12. This is perhaps sharpest for livestock farmers, often hill farmers, who keep a small area in arable. This will often be spring barley and in areas like mid-Wales or the Lake District it may simply be that no other crop may be viable. Such a farmer with say 15 acres of spring barley is most likely when faced with crop diversification simply to abandon arable cropping with the diversity it brings and instead buy his feed in.

13. Intensive dairy farms, relying on grass and maize would be similarly non-plussed. It may on some farms have an interaction with the choice of crops for over-wintered stubbles managed under environmental schemes. It may also disrupt the management of some arable contracting arrangements and some specialist vegetable farmers.

14. We have no clue yet as to what will be defined as separate crops for this – would winter and spring barley be one crop for this or two. We do not know if all three crops have to be in the ground on May 15th or whether the assessment is to be taken over the year (raising issues over reporting and inspection).

15. It is also an administrative challenge, requiring the revival of crop codes for applications and the use of sketch maps for fields that are split between crops.

16. Ecological Focus Areas – Again, much remains to be clarified and understood about these but the measures mentioned so far overlap with both cross compliance (landscape features) and many agri-environment schemes (most obviously buffer strips). Not only will this tend to tighten the supply of food by reducing farming activity but it risks substantial conflict with schemes such as ELS. A farmer faced with cross compliance buffer strips, greening buffer strips and ELS buffer strips may question if he should retain his commitment to ELS given the accumulating loss of production, never minding any conflict over double funding rules as noted above. It is stressed that most arable farmers have used buffer strips to enter ELS but livestock farmers now also seem to be making greater use of them.

17. In conclusion, a common thread through much of the above is that the distinctive use in the UK, perhaps especially England, of Pillar II for agri-environment schemes is put at jeopardy by these proposals. The Commission’s desire to see more agri-environmental activity across the EU is understood but this should not be at the price of the further and more focussed progress this country has made within its limited RDR funding. At present it could appear that the UK faces problems for having been ahead of the field.

18. One solution would be a specific recognition of the problem by a provision in the EU regulations that being in an agri-environment scheme under the Rural Development Regulation would be accepted as also meeting the requirements for greening, in just the same way as the drafts now propose that being recognised as an organic farmer is so allowed (and that with no proof of any specific environmental activity). The draft of the European Parliament’s Dess Report came close to this in the spring and this seems a means to reconcile the UK’s practical position with the Commission’s intentions.

November 2011

Prepared 30th November 2011