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Whether you’re holding is primarily grassland, arable, dairy or mixed, the odds are that the Cross Compliance regulations will affect you, if you claim direct payments such as the Basic Payment Scheme or other Rural Development programmes under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Why have Cross Compliance Regulations? They are there to uphold high environmental, animal welfare, food safety and quality standards across the agricultural sector, which then sets the benchmark for those involved in growing, producing and rearing, ensuring we are all on the same level playing field.
The Cross Compliance Regulations consist of Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC’s) and Statutory Management Requirements (SMR’s). In the UK it is the joint responsibility of the Rural Payment Agency (RPA) and the Animal and Plant Health Agencies (APHA) to enforce the regulations. Anyone who has ever fallen foul of them and felt the wrath of the RPA will vouch for how serious they are taken when it comes to penalties being applied to your claim.
Under the CAP reform the RPA has taken an opportune moment to give the Cross Compliance regulations a makeover ready for the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and to reduce the number of GAEC’s. However, for the beady eyed amongst us, you will note that upon closer reading these have simply been merged down from 17 to 11. The SMR’s have also been unable to escape the RPA’s nip and tuck exercise, particularly those relating to disease control and sewage sludge.
A controversial change includes an extension of the current hedge cutting ban until the 31st of August, which was previously the end of July, although DEFRA is contemplating a derogation for those who need to sow winter crops before this date.
No longer are there requirements to complete Soil Protection Reviews, although a word of warning may be prudent at this point… if it isn’t broke don’t fix it! It may still be wise to continue with your SPR as you will still need to prove that you have measures in place for minimum soil cover and erosion under GAEC’s 4,5 and 6. Therefore don’t throw your SPR booklets and updates out just yet.
The RPA aims to inspect at least 1% of all holdings making a claim under the Basic payment Scheme and a similar number for those involved in other rural development programmes. Often it is forgotten that the Cross Compliance Regulations are there to be adhered to at all times.
The belt surrounding the pot of money which is allocated to UK agriculture from the EU is constantly being tightened and more accountability is being demanded from the tax payer over where their money is being spent. In light of this the likelihood is that we shall experience stricter on farm inspections and tougher penalties for those found breaking the Cross Compliance Regulations.
The latest data released from the RPA reveals the top five regulations that farmers and land owners fell foul of during 2013 inspections.
The implications for those found to be in breach of the regulations can be severe and an inspector will assess each breach on its own merits i.e. the extent, severity, permanence and repetition of such.
The Cross Compliance guidance for inspectors states that a payment reduction should only be applied where a breach of GAEC’s or SMR’s has occurred either intentionally or negligently. In all other cases alternative measures should be sought. Acting negligently includes but is not limited to, not taking reasonable care/skill and or foresight, whereas acting intentionally is likely to include but not be limited to, knowingly doing something wrong in full knowledge of the consequences.
Should you breach a GAEC or SMR intentionally or negligently then the payment reduction applied to your claim will be subject to a reduction matrix of which there are two; one for intentional breaches and one for negligent breaches. The matrix’s’ take into account all of the inspectors findings and evidence to calculate an appropriate percentage to deduct from your claim. There is no specific percentage applied across the board with each case assessed on a farm by farm basis, as some breaches are seen as being more serious than others.
Repeat offenders will be dealt with more robustly and face harsher penalties than first time offenders.
Cross Compliance often becomes forgotten about at busier times of the year such as harvest, so embrace any downtime between now and springtime to sit down and get all of your paper work and records up to date so if the RPA inspector comes knocking, you are prepared.
It is important that those people carrying out field operations are aware of Cross Compliance and the implications of a breach, thus trying to prevent encroachment into buffer strips and cutting hedgerows within the closed period etc.
If you haven’t already done so, it is worth reading the latest version of the Regulations which can be downloaded from:
Alternatively the Farming Advice Service (FAS) provides free confidential advice on technical issues. They can be contacted on 0845 345 1302.
GSC Grays offers a range of professional services to farmers and landowners affected by the Cross Compliance Regulations. For further information please contact Alex Morrison on 01748 829 210