Farmers have been promised “business as usual” for the 2019 Basic Payment Scheme, before changes announced in the 2018 Agriculture Bill may be introduced. But no year of the scheme has been entirely straightforward. Bidwells’ Helen Peirson offers some pointers
We have reached that time of year when thoughts turn to Basic Payment Scheme applications. The good news is that the on-line application process will be as last year and the greening rules are unchanged. The active farmer test has also been dropped completely for 2019 so that is one less question to be answered.
Farmers should start thinking about where they scribbled down their CRN number and password, and log onto the RPA on-line system to make sure their details are still valid. New passwords can be requested if necessary.
Taking care with mapping and field boundaries
Over the last few months, the Rural Payments Agency has continued to carry out mapping updates as part of their Proactive Land Change Detection which comes under the EU Regulations. This has resulted in messages being received by claimants advising that changes have been made to their land parcels. In some cases, changes are so minor that neither the area of the field parcel or the visual boundary has changed. However, it is important to check that all your field parcel boundaries are correct and this can be done via the View Land option on the on-line system.
Any changes to incorrect mapping will need to be rectified using an RLE1 form. It is also important to check that the “land cover” for each field parcel is correct as some changes have been made by the RPA during the PLCD update. Remember that if your land cover is showing as permanent pasture and you declare the 2019 land use as winter wheat, this is going to cause problems during claim validation. Incorrect land cover can also be remedied by submitting an RLE1 form.
The on-line system for the transfer of land and entitlements has been up and running for a number of weeks. As well as transferring land parcels and entitlements to a third party, there is also the option to “remove” land linked to your SBI and this may be useful if land is no longer in agricultural use. This might be where land has been sold for development or given up to a non-farming occupier.
If you are missing a land parcel from your holding and you know it is already registered on the Land Management System, a simple email request can be made to the RPA to have it added. Remember to state “BPS 2019 Add Land” in the title of your email and include your SBI, business name, land parcel reference number and a name and contact number. The RPA should add the field parcel and link it to your SBI within 5 working days. Land which has never been registered on the Land Management System will need to have an RLE1 form completed as will any changes to permanent boundaries.
Ecological Focus Areas rules still critical to Greening
As mentioned above, the greening rules are unchanged for the 2019 application. The crop diversification rules still apply; 3 crops are required by farmers with more than 30 hectares of arable land and 2 crops for farmers with between 10 and 30 hectares of arable land. There is no crop diversification requirement for those with less than 10 hectares.
Farmers with 15 hectares or more of arable land must also have Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) in order to claim the greening element of the BPS. Claimants still have the choice of 5 options to satisfy their 5% EFA target; fallow, catch and cover crops, buffer strip, hedgerows or trees in a line and nitrogen fixing crops. The use of pesticides on EFA land was prohibited in 2018 and this rule continues for the 2019 year.
There is one rule relating to EFA that can catch people out. If a claimant has an area of EFA crop or fallow which is adjacent to an EFA hedge or line of trees, then an adjustment needs to be made. For each 1 metre length adjacent to an EFA hedge or line of trees, the area of EFA crop or fallow must be reduced by 2.5 square-metres. This can have quite an impact if, for example, you are claiming a small field of EFA fallow which is surrounded by an EFA hedge.
If using hedgerows or line of trees towards your EFA requirement, make sure that they are correctly mapped in the View Land section of the on-line system. Add any missing hedgerows or trees in a line via an RLE1 form.
Don't delay the application process
There is no reason to put off looking at your 2019 BPS application until the looming deadline of 15th May. Log onto the on-line system as soon as possible.
Check that details your are correct and that your business structure is accurate. Go through the land parcels linked to your SBI and make sure that they are complete and have the correct land cover. Is the eligible area of each field parcel correct? Pay particular attention to any transfers of land or entitlements either into or out of the business that have occurred over the last few months.
Update the land use of each field parcel to reflect the position as at 15th May this year. Use the 2019 land-use code list recently published on the RPA website. Do remember that when an EFA compatible land use code is entered against a field parcel (ie fallow, peas or beans) that this will automatically pre-populate in the Greening EFA section of the application. Reduce or delete these areas if they are not compliant with the EFA rules. Check the number of entitlements held is also as expected.
Once the form is complete don’t assume that the diversification and EFA summary page totals are correct – check these manually and include data on any paper continuation sheets. Finally, don’t forget to send off your supporting documents to the RPA.
Find out what Countryside Stewardship is available
You are now able to apply for your Mid-Tier application pack via the RPA on-line system. This should be generated within 24 hours of the request being made. In addition, on-line applications can also be made for the 4 new Wildlife Offers, the Boundary and Hedgerow Grant and the Woodland Management Plans.
*Helen Peirson is a farm business consultant with Bidwells. She can be contacted on 01223 559319 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Farm Contractor & Large Scale Farmer Magazine