Important changes in the Basic Payment Scheme Greening Rules for 2021

28 July 2020

A short announcement from DEFRA on 27th July marked important changes in the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) for the next few years and may also give a clue to how the transition from direct payments to Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) may be eased.

Government to cut red tape for farmers as they plan for 2021

The paper released on 27th July was headed “Government to cut red tape for farmers as they plan for 2021”, and it gave details of a major simplifying initiative. With effect from the 2021 year, the greening requirements under BPS will be removed on the grounds that they produce little environmental benefit but are an administrative headache for farmers. In practical terms this will mean that it will no longer be necessary to provide an “ecological focus area” of hedges, tree lines, buffer strips etc., nor will it be necessary to grow two or three different crops (depending on the size of the farm). In practical terms one can see that the EFA changes will have little environmental impact since many farms already have the relevant features in place – they simply will no longer need to list them annually. The 30% greening payment will be added to the BPS payment.

The change in the cropping diversity may have benefits, in that where a small farm is cultivated using contractors, it will be far easier to “block crop” the land, since the contractors will no longer need to make multiple visits. Larger farms with simple cropping rotations and large fields may also find the new rules more practical. This rule had already been temporarily relaxed for 2020, but clearly the change will now be permanent.

These changes to the greening requirements are also likely to make completion of the annual BPS claim form much easier, since the level of detail in the greening section is far greater than anything else on the form. From an accounting perspective, the change will remove an area of technical uncertainty which could arise where greening requirements went beyond BPS reference period.

Looking ahead to the future, this announcement may give a clue to how the ELMS schemes may work in practice. At present some management practices are eligible for Countryside Stewardship payments and can alternatively be used as part of the greening EFA. If they are no longer needed for greening, they will presumably become available for Stewardship so there will be a positive financial encouragement for more farms to move into the stewardship regime without necessarily reducing their productive acreage. If, as expected, the basic ELMS schemes look very similar to stewardship, one can see that aspects of the transition might proceed quite seamlessly.

Commenting on the change, Head of Agriculture, Partner Sarah Dodds said;

"We very much welcome this announcement. Many farming businesses have always provided the environmental benefits which greening required but had to spend a lot of effort ensuring that they didn’t trip over the rulebook. It is hard to see anyone mourning the loss of red tape, and we would hope that this “light touch” will follow through to the ELMS rules in future.”

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