NFU BPS expert Richard wordsworth writes...
In recent weeks we’ve reminded members about the greening rules for 2017. However, with many members finalising their cropping for the 2018 harvest in the coming weeks, the situation around the greening rules covering Ecological Focus Areas for 2018 are far from clear.
Why is there uncertainty?
Put simply, in early 2016 the EU Commission proposed changes to the greening rules following the first year of implementation. Those proposals have developed and have been travelling through the three EU institutions of the Commission, Council and latterly the Parliament.
While most of the changes could be seen as either neutral or having no impact on English and Welsh farmers due to the approach taken here, there is one major issue that has caused considerable concern.
That’s the proposed ban of plant protection products on field-based EFA options - not only the EFA option of nitrogen fixing crops, but also fallow or catch /cover crops used to count towards a farmer’s annual 5% EFA requirement where it is needed.
The EU decision-making process has got to the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, who vote this week on whether to either accept or reject the package of greening proposals. If they accept (which seems uncertain at this stage), then the changes would be confirmed relatively quickly.
If they are not accepted but rejected in total or conditionally, then the EU process moves on to further parliamentary vote in June and that may then lead to the setting up of tri-negotiations between the EU Commission, Parliament and Council to thrash out a deal. If that happens, then that could take a further couple of months, pushing the decision back still further. This would make it even more difficult to implement the changes at farm level from 1 January 2018. So we are left in an unsatisfactory situation.
Be assured the NFU has worked extensively on these proposals, seeking feedback from members, working with Defra, meeting and lobbying the Commission and working with fellow farming organisations around the UK and Europe against the introduction of this PPPs ban. If there is ultimately a ban introduced, then at this stage we say it should be deferred until 1 January 2019 implementation start date.
What’s our message to members?
It is frustrating to report at this critical time in the farming year that the greening rules for 2018 are still not fully known. Many will have picked up EU proposals to ban the use of plant protection products on ‘productive’ EFAs from BPS 2018. At this time farmers will have to factor this potential change to the rules into their greening / cropping plans for harvest 2018. It is not clear when a final decision will come out of the EU decision making process, so watch this space.
One thing that does seem clearer at this stage is that the area of land that farmers need to dedicate to EFAs will remain at 5% of the arable area for 2018. This follows a recent EU review. To work out your 5% EFA requirement please refer to the 2017 BPS handbook.